Yesterday I came home from school never wanting to go back.
Last week I drove 15 hours to Durham, NC, to see exactly half of my Old Dumas Family. The anticipation wasn’t huge because I was so overwhelmed with school and life. The trip was calm and quiet, full of food and carrides from Durham to Cary to Raleigh to Durham to Asheville to Anywhere. But after the final six hour stretch of driving back to Arkansas alone, from Nashville to Dumas, when I was laying in bed trying to find sleep after four or five or six cups of coffee, I could hardly keep from crying. I didn’t realize how much I love and miss my old family until I left them again. The solace in people that have shared the same experience, that are in similar places in life, that know me well enough to let me be quiet for an hour or scream carols with me on Christmas hayrides– it was a solace I didn’t know I needed until I had it and lost it again.
This realization made returning to school almost the equivalent of a breakdown. Nothing will ever be as bad as my first year of teaching, and yesterday was still better than probably half my school days last year, but I still came home wanting to quit.
Sarah’s in grad school at Duke. Leaf moved to New Orleans to start a new life. Laura found a job that relates to what she studied in undergrad and moved closer to family. And me? I stayed in Dumas for another year. For the first time, while I rode around North Carolina, I felt like that wasn’t enough. Stagnant. Unimportant. Ineffective. Unambitious.
Leadership team yesterday just exacerbated it. Me? A leader? When meeting after meeting fails and has people leaving with anger all over their face and students’ academic achievement in perpetual peril? Where nothing gets done and nothing is expected to get done? This is our school leadership team. How is this possible?
So I came home. I went for a long walk and bought a bunch of candy canes for my students for class. I tried to watch The Grey but turned it off because it made me too anxious. I woke up anxious. I went to school literally at the last possible minute, walking in at exactly 7:45am.
And what happened? Salvation.
The first thing was our dean catching me before I even got into the building, “Ms. L, I’m finding Ms. W for you– she’s watching your class for a meeting.”
“Yes, Mrs. Principal wants you in a meeting with Ms. Consultant.”
“Hm. Do you know where?”
“Do you know how long?” I ask this because my only formal evaluation for the year is scheduled for 1:05pm with my vice principal.
So I shuffled to class, where Ms. W shows up and I tell her to let my students finish all their homework for the week (they get packets every Monday) during class. I pick up my coffee and get ready to go when Mr. Vice Principal walks in.
And asks for advice.
No kidding. I say this not in a negative way. He came in, sat down at a table, and asked for my advice on leadership team, flattering me professionally both directly and indirectly. It’s amazing what a dramatic impact simple things can do. It was a three minute conversation in which I felt validated, valued, and comfortable and credible enough to be brutally honest.
In the middle of our meeting with Ms. Consultant we had a break, during which I headed back to my classroom to check on second period, the lowest and most behaviorally problematic class. Walking there, a student came sprinting toward me.
“Hey, Ziyah, how’s class?”
“It’s going good. Everyone is working!”
“Really? Even Shawn?”
“Yep! I was coming to ask you how to put the Christmas music on.”
My tiny heart sang. Yesterday I played one Christmas song for each class (is that legal?) and told them I would play Christmas music as much as humanly possible until break. It will make us all happier.
I walked in to a completely silent class. My biggest behavior problem was at a table by himself, hunched over his work so intently that he didn’t notice I walked in. I touched his arm, “Ty! You are doing so well today! I’m impressed!”
When I walked to Ms. W to explain Spotify she paused me to say, “This class has been doing well. First period, though, was wonderful. I’ll leave you a note, but the class was just so great.”
My babies! First period is my homeroom, the students I feel most responsible for. Anything they do hits me very personally, whether I mean it to or not. They’re my kids. Mine. So, naturally, pride swelled. I can’t wait to give them their five class points tomorrow, something they earn for any unasked-for compliment they receive.
And last, last, was after school tutoring. I walked into the junior high cafeteria to see my ninth grader, Mesha, huddled over a notebook, frantically scribbling. I signed in, said hi to some teachers, and my way over to her.
“Mesha, how you doing?”
“Bad.” She held up her notebook, full of asterisk-laden cussing. It was the most upset I’ve ever seen her.
In our room, I asked her what happened. The explanation was a muddle of “she said” and “she looked at me so…” and “I didn’t want to say anything, but…” Basically, an eighth grader has been taunting her for two days. For the entire duration of her story she penciled deep circles on the inside cover of her composition notebook, staring into space. Included in her story was how hungry she was.
Fitting, because after my first entry about her, one of my favorite friends from Michigan mailed her four books. Mesha used to have a book collection, but when her family moved from Chicago to Arkansas her mom made her throw them all out, “No room in the car.”
I wanted to reason with her, and did tell her that she can’t let another girl control her head or her emotions, but having the books with me made me too excited. I said, “Well, Mesha, I have some things to make you feel a little better. Are you ready for them?”
“Number one,” I began the list as I pulled out her favorite kind of granola bar, which I threw in my bag about a week ago and still happened to have. Hunger? Solved.
“Number two.” I pulled out the first book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and set it in front of her.
Instantly, her entire face, her posture, her tone of voice, everything became warmly animated. Unable to speak, she squealed at the fresh cover, immediately grasping it and turning it to read the back, “Wow! A book! For me!”
“Number three.” The Westing Game. More gasps.
“Number four.” Matilda.
“Number five.” I pulled out Sachar’s Wayside School and was glad to save it for last.
“I know this book! I love this book! I can start my collection again!” She neatly stacked all four and sat back to look at them. I reminder her they weren’t for me, but she thanked me anyway. Our next meeting with definitely include writing a thank you note (unfortunately she had too much homework to do that today– but it’s coming!)
Though I don’t like satisfying emotional turmoil with anything material, if ever there was a perfect day to deliver those books, today was it. This is why I love my job. This is why I love having a chance to blog about my job. This is why even though yesterday was close to awful, I barely bothered to speak about it.
I knew salvation was hours away.