Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do What You Do...

For many people I know, their job is just their job. They show up at 8:00. They leave at 5:00. A lunch break. Maybe a smoke break. Some chit chat with co-workers and knocking some tasks off the to-do list.

When they go home, they might worry about a deadline. Or an evaluation or even how they'll pay the rent.

I go home and worry about who will wind up pregnant. Who will go to jail. Who will graduate on time if at all. I twist my hands over how my students will ever remember to pay the electric bill someday if they can't even remember to bring back their homework. I wonder if the bruises on their arms are really from falling down. I question who is worrying about these children when I see them, still on the back porch of the school at 8:00 at night or at 6:45 in the freezing cold morning, shivering without even a jacket.

I grew up in a school, in a town, where if you can't feed your family, everyone knows. Everyone knows because there just... aren't... that... many... of you. Where if you're at school at 8:00 PM, the principal gave you a lift home. Where everyone is expected to graduate and teen pregnancies and jail terms were still thought of as statistics as opposed to realities.

I live in a different world now. I am reminded every day.

Tonight, I saw a student who hasn't been in my classroom in 8 years. A student who redefined laziness. His biggest exertion in my class was to roll his eyes, smack his lips, furrow his brow, and let out an exasperated sigh every time I asked/re-directed/prodded him awake. I can clearly remember worrying, night after night, about where life would land him. I was pretty sure it was nowhere good.

Truthfully, I am still unsure as to where life landed him. His appearance is relatively unchanged. His slow walk still feels like molasses running uphill, and I still get the eyeroll every time I "be startin' in wit' dem questions". And he evades "dem questions" when they get too personal, too near things he doesn't want his ol' teacher to know. And I am now careful in what I ask because, believe me, some things are better left unknown. But every time I see him, he is looking out for his little brother. He is shaking hands with every person he encounters, shooting his slow, easy smile at every kind face he sees. Even before I see him, he is ambling toward me, arms outstretched. And he hugs me around the neck and asks me if I "still be doin' whatchoo do?"

For a split-second, I take a break from worrying and just enjoy the moment.

And then I respond, "Of course I AM still doin' what I do. I don't BE doin' anything else." Which, of course, is met with an eyeroll and a lip smack.

But this time, it's followed with a slow, easy smile.

1 comment:

  1. I love this story. Love. And I am thankful that passionate teachers like you and your crew exist in our world. For those people who think "those who can't, teach" clearly haven't met the likes of you and your comrades.