Monday, September 21, 2015

and babies moulded into quiet men

There comes the strangest moment in your life, 
when everything you thought before breaks free--
 what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite 
looks upside down from how it used to be.
--"There Comes the Strangest Moment", Kate Light

Francis*, I said, turning my gaze into a steely laser, look me in the eye, please.
He did, hesitantly.
You have one job. To read. Not correct your classmates' behavior. That is my job. I will do my job. And you, please begin your job. Please open your book.
In an act of unmitigated defiance, Francis opened his journal, and kept his book glued shut on his desk.
Touche, my friend.
I think every high schooler fancies themselves like Milton's Lucifer.
And he's got a point.

Who overcomes
By force, hath overcome but half his foe.
et cetera

Another school year has begun, and I am amazed by how much less terrifying teaching is when you actually know what you are doing.
On our first day of class, I looked out at my sea of students, and saw a look of fear etched into their faces. It was the primal fear that tears lurk behind. Oh my goodness, I realized. It's their first day of high school and they are literally petrified. How do I not remember this look on my students' faces from last year? And I thought: oh. Because I was probably just as terrified. I probably had that look of sheer terror on my own face.

As I commenced with teaching students how to use Microsoft Excel last year, I was foundering. I had no idea what I was doing, so I naturally clung to the rules like a life saver; and to structure and Class Room Management Commandments like a buoy in a hurricane. But there will never be a perfect class room, and as much as one tries to achieve a perfectly timed lesson or a lesson plan that follows all the Common Core Recommendations and hits all the Power Benchmarks or whatnot, none of that really matters. They are means to an end, and nothing more.

I'm reminded of this each day, when my students file in for homeroom. Although it's tempting to fill those ten minutes of the day with interesting lessons and learning moments, I'm reminded, when I'm stressed out and running late, that all that matters is that I greet them with a smile. That the first person who greets them in the morning says: hi, how are you? That I smile at them as they walk out the door and says, as my friend Mary always did for us in college: Do great things!

Whatever I achieved last year, I know it was not a failure, because we watched Dead Poets Society in class, and Luis found the movie on Netflix and watched the ending before the rest of us, and told me that he cried. It's my new favorite movie, he said.

In our lesson last week, we read Kate Light's beautiful meditation on transformation and transition: There Comes the Strangest Moment. Most of the students moved their pencils across the page diligently: and their answers were simply rephrasing the question into an answer form. But Christopher looked at the poem, and found something. And he beckoned me over to share his answers with my ears only, hesitant, unsure if they were Correct. He explained what he saw in the poem, and I was delighted. My delight, contagious, was mirrored on his face, as he learned for the first time that he was very good at reading poetry. And he shared his answers with the class, who were--in spite of all their teenage bravado and hesitance to seem nerdy or interested in anything worth being interested about--duly impressed.

Those are the important moments; the moments of simple Joy, or conversation, or seeing something in the world that has touched you deeply and will stick inside your soul. The moments where you are affirmed not in a trivial or callow way, but when the questions at the core of every high school-aged human's heart (and all of ours as well)--Am I enough? Do I have anything to offer to this world that is so vast and filled with so many people more confident and beautiful and talented than I? Am I worthy of all the Joy and love in the world, and more than that besides?---are answered with a yes. 

How many people thought you'd never change? 
But here you have. It's beautiful. It's strange. 
--"There Comes the Strangest Moment", Kate Light

*Names changed to protect the somewhat innocent.

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