March 13, 2006

Clockin' Ten Hour Days

People often give teachers grief. They say: that we have summers off, and that we only work till three and so on. I am sure there is a litany of other comments people make about the easiness of teaching, but I am not here to rewrite a Hallmark poster detailing the difficulties of teaching, nor am I here to make the profession I have chosen seem more important than it is. I am simply here to regroup, sort through, reflect and celebrate some things that happened to me today.

I started teaching in Africa several years ago. I didn’t know what I was doing and so it was exciting. Next, I moved to the Bronx. Riding the train home in tears everyday not so exciting. The reason I am sharing my resume is because after, wow, has it been six years, I am getting the hang of it. The days, even the long ones like today, leave me feeling satisfied, complete. I clocked a ten-hour day today that went a little like this:

It was due day. The 7th graders had projects based on the novel The Giver due today, and the 8th graders had their Poetry books. I decided to show some movies. Both to reward the students for two weeks of hard work, and also, to give myself a little break to correct the projects and get grades ready by Tuesday. The seventh graders watched Pleasantville, because it shares some themes with The Giver and the 8th graders watched Dead Poet Society. The reason should be obvious.

I sat and watched their faces as Mr, Keating talked about Carpe Diem. I thought back to the first time I saw the movie in my English class with the same goosebumps on my arm. I was in tenth grade, and my entire future suddenly was laid out in front of me. The play goes on what will be your verse, the teacher asks? Some of my students had tuned out after the opening credits, I guess they will be the executives and bankers, but a few of them, the same ones that have been passing me poems to read for the last few weeks, sat watching enthralled. I could see the thrill reflected off their faces as they watched the boys in the film living deliberately. I thought to myself teaching is simple, all you have to do is show children that we have to keep cynicism at bay and believe in magic. All we have to show them is that life is to be lived. I couldn’t correct because I was too engrossed in the film.

Later. One of the options for the assignment for The Giver projects was to write a song and perform it in front of the class. I took my class to the theater and we sat backstage at a piano, as one of the girls sang and played an amazing piece she had written herself. She had handwritten the music and lyrics, and she sang as she played one of the prettiest melodies I have ever heard. I grabbed the whole class and we gave her a group hug. We laughed and talked about how great her project was as we walked back to the room to watch Pleasantville. I sat and watched uncomfortably as the sexually explicit material passed. How would I explain to a parent that I had shown their twelve year old a movie with a woman masturbating until a tree caught fire?

Later. I start reading the poetry books. If you allow people, especially young people to explore themselves and create, they will always surprise and impress you every time. Some of the books are breathtaking.

Later. I tutor an ESL kid after school and so, we worked on getting him more computer literate. After an hour, he skipped out of class because he learned how to create a word document with boxes and arrows.

I spent the next few hours listening to music and entering individual comments for seventy-six kids into the report card program. It was laborious but necessary I suppose.

I arrived home around six thirty. Exhausted. In two days we are having a poetry reading with food, music, and candles details coming soon, but I felt the need to document this day. There have been so many that have disappeared, but watching that girl play the piano today needed to be documented and shared. I am just thankful that I don’t do anything besides teaching because how many other people can say they watched a twelve year-old sing a song they wrote today.

And tomorrow I go back again for more. The beauty of it is that I have no idea what to expect.

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