She apologized and said “I’m sorry, normally I am a really bubbly person.”
I said, “We’ve been up since 5 am, so when you don’t talk to me as I sit next to you on the bus, please trust that I don’t think you’re a horrible person. Really, on these rides home, conversation is not necessary.”
Nor is it necessary on the rides to school, but to explain that to her would have been too much engagement. I don’t know how people have the energy for the constant chatter. I love talking; I really really do, but lately I like to use the time to reflect upon what exactly it is that I am to be doing. Our ride to MLK High School is about 25-30 minutes long, and I appreicate some alone time to check out the scenery….if I should call it scenery. Rather, I should say that I appreciate the time, in quiet, to contemplate my students’ worlds. The funny thing about living in the hood is that you never know you live there until you’re fortunate enough to leave there…because everyone and everything that you know is homogenus. When I visit my old house – nicknamed 4400 by my friends and I – it looks scary. It looks scary as hell. And how sad is that to say about your own childhood home? It was never particularly scary when I lived there. I walked to the library (and of course flirted with all the boys on the block in the process); I rode my bike to my friend’s house, and I never really feared any bodily harm. If anything, my friends and I thought we were invincible – popping off at the mouth to gun toting, drug dealing punks on the block – thinking “What’s he going to do – shoot me?” No outsider could have told us anything about our block, and as a matter of fact no outsider could have told us anything about our city. I think the same may be true for my students. How can you criticize a home in which you’ve never had the privilege of living? On these bus rides to and from school, I think about how I am similar to my students and how I am different. I believe what makes us most different is the fact that I have no idea what it is like to attend a school where teachers may or may not care about you; where administration may or may not support you ; where staff may or may not do whatever they can to assist you. But most of all, I don’t know what it is like to have adults in your life who do not believe in you and who have given up on you and who you have the potential to become. This difference is monumental, and this difference is why I committed myself to be their teacher. Conversation is not necessary when I need to be alone with my thoughts. Too much conversation leads to an egotistical orientation. How can I be thinking about my students when I am too busy talking about myself or what I will do? Or where I’ve been or who I know?
But what about me?
Today was the beginning of my transformation. Today was the first day that I’ve ever experienced true frustration in school. I’ve been confused before; I’ve needed to ask the teacher clarifying questions or meet outside of class for additional help; but I’ve never had a feeling of genuine hopelessness or doubt in my own intellectual ability. It both shocks and amazes me that despite all the years of my education- simple yes or no questions within the context of our reading brought me to a point of frustration where I was no longer interested in learning the daily objective. I was so angry that I wanted to spit and neared breaking down in class, but I held it together. I knew that it was my session leader’s fault and not my fault for her poor instruction which lead to my frustration; for when I asked a different session leader to explain what I needed to do, I was able to complete the task with relative ease. Most of my students will not have had years of success to reference when learning pushes them to the edge, and most of my students will blame themselves and not their teachers for their lack of learning. It is both the reality of this student disengagement and the weight of my responsibility which makes me highly emotional and incredibly somber. I have also become particularly expressive about my feelings lately. Many sentences have begun with “I feel uncomfortable with….” or “I’m confused about….” or “I’m worried about…” the very feelings that I rarely disclose to people I just met. But this is different.
Teaching is hard, and I haven’t even met a single student yet.