This is also what mom feels on the inside being the parent of a two year old. Sometimes I just want to sit on the sidewalk and throw a tantrum, too.
I teach a community college class for 16-20 year old students who have dropped out of high school. This quarter my students comprised of:
A 17 year old recovering heroin addict.
A 19 year old who checked themself into the psych hospital for three days mid-quarter for suicidal thoughts that they hadn’t had since they were young and their dad hanged himself.
A 16 year old celebrating the year of life anniversary after recovering from an Oxy overdose in a suicide attempt.
A married girl who’s pregnant with her first child.
A few homeless students.
A student who was drugged and date raped at a party midquarter.
A student who narrowly escaped a juvy-life (until they are 21…so 4 years from now) sentence for a crime.
The list goes on, and on, and on. Each student with their own story. Their own life. Their own path to success and happiness.
And I got to witness it all.
In this line of work I come across people who have the mistaken impression that I am somehow saintly for doing “that kind of work,” with “those kind of students.” I’m no saint, believe me. And I think they have it wrong. Because, I don’t really teach these students. My goal, as an educator, is to provide a safe place where community and authenticity can happen. The students teach themselves. They inspire each other. They say, on our final presentation day, things like “before this I didn’t talk to peers, because highschool drama was just so intense, but you guys…you guys have become my family.”
Every quarter there are students who say they wish I could teach their classes forever. And I say that I don’t get funnier or better looking the next 10 weeks, and that they will be glad to move on. And I will be glad, in the first few weeks of the next quarter, to have them visit my class to let me know how they’re doing. They will fly on their own wings toward their own definition of success.
So what does this have to do with Hillary Swank? Or, if we want to go even more old-school, Michelle Pfieffer? These movies were ones I watched in school and thought, “I’m glad there are people who do that kind of work, but what are uppitty white women doing going into that kind of environment thinking they’re going to save the world?” I had ambitions to be an AP English teacher at a high school level. Graduate to the community college level. Then on to a prestigious university, perhaps, immersed in academia.
Maybe I left my pearl necklace at home on the first day of class JUST BECAUSE of watching Freedom Writers in college. Or maybe, somewhere along the way I got in touch with myself and that’s what my students can see. Maybe they notice the confused teenager longing for connection and understanding and a path toward success that lived inside me and informs my everyday actions with them. Maybe they notice that I don’t have to have it all figured out.
I have so far to go. But today one of my students, in her shoutout slide in her final presentation, said “Monk-Monk, I just want to let you know…I think you’re just like Khloe Kardashian.”
She meant it as a high compliment. And in reference to me saying that as an introvert I often come home and drink a glass of wine and watch The Kardashians on TV. I am their teacher, and Khloe Kardashian would play me in a movie. I kinda dig it.
I wish you could all meet my students. Maybe someday you will. When they reach their goals of tattoo artist, trauma nurse, civil rights lawyer, software engineer, animal trainer, makeup artist. Their future shines so bright I’m gonna need shades to watch them soar into the sun.
I’m sitting in my empty classroom on the last day of lecture. It’s lunchtime, and I am alone with my thoughts. Alone with the memories of the quarter. An hour ago the class was full of students, who, for the first time since I’ve taught this curriculum, made one big group to do the final reflection exercise. They pulled the chairs out and formed a big group, reflecting on the quarter, writing advice to the newbies to come in the Fall.
The community these students create is amazing.
School is a scary place. I am so tired of current events where every other week I am bringing another school shooting up. This time last week it was at Seattle Pacific University, a place I interned as a counselor a few years ago. I sit in my empty classroom thankful that I can, unlike most of the classes here, lock the door and think…what would I do if it happened here?
I work with students on the edge of society. The misfits, dropouts, recovering heroin junkies, the students that many professors see as ‘throwaways.’ I love them all dearly. On our last day of class I tell them this. I tell them that I have never lost a student to suicide and that I care deeply about them and would be sad if they were not around to complete the program. I look them in the eye and tell them they are valuable and worthy and not throwaways.
I hope that I’m not just blowing smoke at them. That my words back up the actions I take throughout the quarter. I hope they can feel the love. I hope that they all succeed in their lifetime goals.
I hope than they embrace love and not violence.
Potamus loves singing “The Wheels on the Bus” so much, that we introduced him to the Magic School bus on Netflix. Mostly because our voices are hoarse from singing that damn song on repeat. At any rate, he loves this show, and I am really loving how much he loves it. He watches enraptured at the story, giggles along when Ms. Frizzle does something funny, and then yesterday my mom-guilt about all the TV watching was transformed into amazement at my little boy’s thought process.
See, we were watching the episode where they go back in time to look for dinosaurs. And Potamus gets SO excited, and pulls out his spyglass (aka a napkin ring) and we were only halfway through the episode when he just kept pointing and smiling and jumping up and down saying “Dnsar” (or something to that effect). He then drug me all around the backyard looking for dinosaurs.
My baby is playing pretend.
He would point, and shout “dinosaur!” and then wave to this imaginary (invisible? maybe my backyard is inhabited by dinosaurs?) dinosaur, before tromping off through the grass and underbrush of the backyard (which showed me just how much weeding I have to do to get my yard looking even remotely good). I was blown away by this kid’s imagination. He took something from TV and then made it his own, just like I used to do as a kid.
So sweet to watch him be so excited about the make-believe world!