Today, after yet another trying day at my school, I reached the (near) end and felt just as I usually feel at the end of a particularly long slog trying to get third graders to act like real, live, mini-people. My back hurt, my feet hurt, I was moving into unconsciously-rolling-my-eyes-at-everyone-for-everything territory rather swiftly, and the only thing getting me through to the end was the thoughts of my obligatory glass of Cab Sauvignon at 8:00 pm.
Then came time to square up with one of my rather frequent troublemakers, who, if we’re being honest, has been annoying the crap out of me lately. God bless this child, but seriously, for the last two days I have just been holding it in. Today, I had discovered his math textbook lying on the floor in my class, and the inside was defaced and missing the first five or so pages. These books were issued, for the first time to anyone, at the beginning of the school year, August 2011. Fresh from the press! They are the only not-used supplies anybody in my school happens to have. So I knew the condition of the book when it was given to him – pristine. And the condition of the book now? Not completely unsalvageable, but it doesn’t look great. And there’s writing on two of the three exposed edges.
I just… snapped. I could not believe that this child had a book for less than 4 months, it ONLY stays in the classroom (they are not allowed to leave with textbooks) and had already pretty much ruined it for the years of students that would come after him. We had a conversation (very one-sided, as I’m sure you can guess) about what it means to take care of the things that are given to you, and to be thankful for that which not everyone has the opportunity to experience, and what that book could’ve meant to future school kids. As a consequence, he did not receive the privilege snack that all the kids in my class get when they have B or Better Behavior Days, and he started to cry. I told him he could earn it tomorrow but that today he had lost that opportunity by defacing the school’s brand new property.
As enraged as I was – and as a book lover, I was very, very enraged – all I could do was grab him and clutch him and let him cry into my dress. And when he calmed down, I asked him to explain why he’d gotten the consequence. He said, “I ruined a school book and I shouldn’t have done that.” And I realized that this kid, this most trying of little crazies that I seem to battle with on an hourly basis, is still my kid. Not biologically, obviously, but just in the way that all of the students are mine. I love them, even when I cannot stand a choice they have made, even when I am really very angry at them or because of them, or at my wit’s end trying to work out their litany of issues. I was so mad but… I get that I have been happier lately not just because winter break is so close (but for real! Winter break is. so. close!) but also because, as bad as the day to day can sometimes be, I really do love these kids. They drive me crazy, and I will not lie and say that I spend all my time really liking them all, but they are mine. And I want to be good enough for them. I want to teach them things. I want them to learn from me and each other. I want them to grow up to be real, live, mature people. I want for them.
It was a typical day at my school. Fights everywhere, the police came again, I restrained several students (none of whom I actually teach) and my class was a frenzied mess. And I felt like I typically feel at the end of these days – exhausted to my very core, puzzled at the life decisions that led me to teaching, angry at what I see everyday. But it was different.
I can’t really do anything other than this because I love it. I hate it and I love it, but the hate is temporal and the love is everlasting. I cannot believe how much I love a bunch of children who are, without a doubt, legitimately out of their minds. It is the best thing.