After the first two weeks of school, things are starting to get into a routine. The kids and I are getting to know each other. We’re starting to figure out who we’re going to be in the class– goofy, studious, open, closed, assertive, passive.
I don’t know everyone’s name (there 178 of them), so I play a game where I spot kids in the hallway or when they turn in a paper or raise their hand and I quiz myself– first name, last name.
Yet, some I have gotten to know really well, although they might not know it.
I know that about 15% of my tenth graders cannot correctly spell “Wednesday.”
I know that there are too many who cannot write in complete sentences.
I know that there are several who are lacking credits to graduate on time.
You might be thinking, What the FUCK? High school? Sheesh.
But before you do, let me explain what I also know.
I know that at least one student is forced to care for his younger sisters every single night and that this leaves him with little time to do homework.
I know that at least one student missed classes this week because his aunt OD’d on heroin.
I know that at least one student is struggling with her cancer treatment.
I know that at least one student is having her name changed because her father has been arrested on multiple charges.
I know that at least one student has been sexually abused by both her step-father and biological father.
I know that at least one student is being raised by someone other than a parent.
I know that at least one student has been or is in foster care.
And these are the kids who still come to school. Every day. So far.
Early on in my career, I had a long term sub position with sixth graders. I was young, naive, and ignorant. I was living with my parents at the time and it seemed like every day I came home I would have stories to tell. And rarely were they positive. It got to the point that one day my dad said, “Don’t you ever have anything positive to talk about?”
And I get it. I really, really do.
No one wants hear about my pay freeze, or enormous class sizes, or paperwork that never ends, or kids who have tethers, or have just transferred into my district after count day, or are reading at a fourth grade level in the tenth grade, or have been removed from homes, or are homeless, neglected and abused.
I get it.
When Sarah McLachlan comes on the TV with her guitar and dogs and the music swells and images of emaciated animals fill the screen, I turn the channel too.
I get it.
But this is important.
It’s not getting better. And it’s not going away.
I often get accused of being negative. Of not being “happy” or “upbeat” during the school year. When I go out with friends, I know they don’t want to hear sad, angry or WTF stories. I admit it’s true because at times everything seems to suck.
It’s because this shit roils inside me. I worry and plan and work and worry and talk and research and worry about these kids while awake and asleep. The thoughts get all consuming at times and I fall into darkness so upset that I can’t help. That I’m not good enough. That these kids are alone and adrift and without a positive force.
And it makes me wonder who really gives a fuck about Anglo-Saxon poetry when these kids are dealing with things most adults couldn’t handle?
I feel guilty because I can’t help them as much as I should. I feel guilty because there are other kids who are not on my immediate radar who I should be helping. I feel guilty that I am neglecting my own kids worrying about these kids. I feel guilty that I am so tired and worn out. I feel guilty that I am not taking care of myself.
I joke about the vodka (I swear I’m not a lush) but these thoughts will drive you to drink. Just to take the edge off the worry and guilt. It affects me deeply and in every core of my being. And that’s a good thing, but it also fucks with me on a daily basis.
But I will try and focus on the positive. I will try and keep the worry and guilt and depression from oozing out. I will try and be as upbeat to all of you as I am in front of my students. I will laugh and engage and enjoy as much as I possibly can.
And if I start going down the spiral and it’s not the time or the place, just give me a sign. A face slap will work. A re-fill might be just as good.
I just ask for patience.
Because soon I will know all their names and many more stories. And these kids need people to hear them.