During my first year as a "Teacher for America" in Baltimore, there were rare moments when I didn’t leave my trailer-turned-classroom thinking: this is the single most miserable experience of my life. Sadly, this realization rarely had anything to do with the actual teaching process. In fact, it rarely had anything to do with my own students. Which led me to the disheartening conclusion that I should seriously consider quitting my job… but MS is expensive and I needed the health insurance.
Sometime in March, I literally stumbled out of my portable classroom and began the short, though laborious, hike to the main building. Actually, there was nothing laborious about the hike except for my inability to successfully navigate (or dodge) the swarm of crazed first graders who were outside for recess. There must have been some type of magnetic field surrounding my body, because no matter how hard I attempted to project irritation, I still had to pluck at least six grubby children from my legs before reaching the sacred door that symbolized my hour of freedom. This particular day was no exception.
A small blonde haired child with dark brown roots, whose head was far too large for his body, attached himself to my (slightly too short) navy skirt: “Excuse me. Excuse me, are you a teacher?” He sounded like a high-pitched alien when he spoke.
And suddenly he had several friends with him. The one who spoke next still had saved the majority of his lunch on his face for later: “Yeah! Are you a real teacher?”
This made me laugh (amidst thoughts of: why is your lunch still on your face? Please don’t touch me), and then I replied, “Of course I’m a real teacher, silly, what else would I be?”
Suddenly another child appeared, he was very chubby. He might have stored his lunch in his cheeks: “You fell over once, though.”
And his high-pitched friends all echoed his point: “Yeah, yeah! We saw you!”
The saddest thing about my resultant thought process was that I couldn’t isolate which time they were referring to. Suddenly I took them very seriously. I thought at first that they doubted my status as a “real” teacher because of my short skirt, or maybe because they'd heard the previous racket that resonated from my classroom. And, coupled with the fact that one of my eighth grade students was recently escorted from my classroom by the school disciplinarian for wielding a lit match during my class, I honestly had to hesitate before affirming my own status as a “real” teacher. That they thought I wasn't real because I fell over, though? That was absurd.
I squatted down to first grade eye-level: “You mean in the computer room the other day?”
Four pairs of big eyes nodded in unison.
“Well why can’t teachers fall over every once in a while? Don’t you fall over sometimes?”
Their heads continued to nod (this might have been a result of ADD, not agreement). And the big-headed child, with two-toned hair stepped forward:
“Well, were you okay? Are you hurt?”
And this question instantly dissipated my concern for their collective absurdity. Because amidst the atmosphere of general hostility and complete self-involved ignorance which characterized many of my experiences at that school, there was a moment of genuine compassion.