I write often on this blog space about teaching…and a lot of it is a perky portrait of balloons and bubbles.
Not today. Today those balloons and bubbles popped.
After yet another constipated conversation of reluctant, low-level thinking from my AP Lit seniors, I drew the discussion to an end, dismantled the circle, and asked students to go to their desks and reflect. As a driven teacher, I refuse to waste class time. As a caring teacher, I refuse to not look behind and beyond the surface actions into why. Why are you so quiet? Why has the quality of your thinking decreased? What’s on your mind?
I am worried about the medical tests I am taking. Will I be ok? What is wrong with me? Is the medicine working? My health worries me.
Every year around this time, a sinewy disease crawls into the classroom, weaving discord among the tables and chairs and minds: senioritis. Seniors, who are so consumed with the after, lose sight of the now. And always, we their teachers, gather together and suffer through anxiety, carrying our excessive care for them to a mental place where we can lay down our burdens–their burdens–and swap them for solutions. We know life after high school will be better for them, even if they currently can’t find assurance in that.
Miss, I’m tired. I’m up all night taking care of my younger siblings while my parents work. And this is after sports. And this is after school. I want to do my homework…but when?
I read through their reflections. Heavy. Tired. Buried. Insecure. Brokenhearted. Have I let my coaching responsibilities distract me from good teaching? Have I been too busy performing as the sage on the stage to authentically assess how my students are declining, a slow atrophy? Do I care more about how my classroom appears to the politician’s ever-critical-eye than the students in it? In playing the game, have I lost the game?
There’s a lot going on at home. We are in our third house in as many months. I don’t think we’ll be here long either. It’s hard to pay the bills even though we’re all working.
As I read their reflections, I hear a recurrent echo of not being present due to future worries, other worries, worries not here and now, in this room of learning and loving through the lens of literature. College. Scholarships. Other classes. Work. Home. Relationships. Poverty. Health. Violence. Trauma. Abuse. The list degrades and blurs into elements beyond their control, undeserved and overwhelming.
I am mentally unstable.
Suddenly, senioritis–perhaps something I can influence–seems but a shadow of the oppression that has suffocated their entire lives. And what can I, little old me, this powerless teacher, do to bring down their Goliaths? What stone can I throw? What slingshot do I own? And how do I see the target when I am looking into the hot glare of the sun? And I am afraid, realizing that so many of them self-destruct under the frightful weight of leaving high school, a place that has been consistent in a life of chaos.
My parents do not want me to go to college. I am meant to stay home and support them, to be another mother or another breadwinner.
But they must leave, they must graduate; they are worthy.
And so I research. I print paper. I gather stones: articles upon articles about mindfulness, meditation, being present. Tomorrow, we will have an academic circle about nothing related to the AP Lit exam, but everything related to the test of life. Tomorrow, we will sit in a circle and be human in a data-driven world that insists they are little more than numbers. Tomorrow, I will give them keys to doors they are afraid to open. I cannot take the stress of their senior year away. I cannot do the work for them. I cannot drag insightful thoughts out of them. I cannot feed their families, heal their bodies, redeem their pasts, pay for their housing, or cure their hidden heartbreaks. But this I can do. I can educate them. I can empower them with tools.
I can love them. And I do. And I will.