Diapers and Dragons

Friday, November 9, 2012

Classrooms and Conferences

Parent Teacher Conferences were on Wednesday--well, the one in which I was the teacher, not the parent. That's a whole different kettle of impossible-to-schedule fish, when one has five children in the local schools. Thankfully, The Dark One's grandmother takes care of hers for us, because the idea of driving an hour to attend them is not one I relish.

At any rate, it was a Very Long Day. By trick of the Scheduling Gods, it was the one day of the week when I do not have a prep hour, and conferences start eleven minutes after the end of the school day. That's just long enough to grab my materials, wheel my comfy chair down to the elevator and then to the Gym, and make a run to the nearest restroom. Fun times.

I ended up getting a flood of parents after our dinner break, to the point where I was stumbling over words and staring at faces blearily through a growing headache. I finished speaking with the last parent nearly ten minutes after the end of conferences, closing out the place with one other English teacher. I got home fifteen hours after I'd left in the morning, long after MTL had left for work (he has a third shift position now--more on that in another post) and just after the four littles had gotten to bed.

Even more than the physical drain, parent teacher conferences these days--and especially this year--are emotionally and mentally draining. Fall of 2012 has been full of angst, and not just for me. I cannot recall a year in which I have looked out at my classes and seen so many students sitting there quietly bleeding inside.

Conferences only exposed more--or explained some situations that I had not already been able to draw out of my students. More than once my eyes were flooded with barely-contained tears, and at least once I found myself grasping the hand of a parent sitting across from me, trying to convey some measure of comfort through a momentary touch.

I have a choice every day in my job. Shall I focus solely on the academics? Shall I look past the pain in these children's eyes and remind myself that I wasn't hired to be their therapist? Shall I stay firmly ten feet away from the boundary of Personal Life?

Or shall I reach out, take the personal risk of rejection and exposure to pain, and treat the student as a whole person rather than an academic entity?

I think you can tell which side I choose.

I can't look past the pain in their eyes--the students' or the parents'. I can't sweep it under the rug and say "it's not my job." Technically, it's not. And I do have to be careful about the boundaries, because the mix between Personal and Professional can be precarious. But it's worth it, in the end, to have a student give that bit more effort in class because he feels like his teacher cares about him as a person rather than just another one of many in a classroom. It's worth it to receive an email from a student who says that being able to cry and spill out her story to me in the hallway made her feel like she had a bit of hope. It's worth it to have a mother who's juggling two babies and aching for her older son who is drifting away in the pain of poverty and rejection from his father leave my table with a slight lift of her head, a sense that the burden is being shared rather than on her shoulders alone. It's worth it to have another mother thank me, with tears trickling down her face, for just listening.

I do not teach numbers or replicated clones who all appear in my classroom with the same skills and interests and, above all, histories. It's the great challenge: every year I teach around 150 students and somehow have to try to reach them each as individuals. I cannot reach them all--some of them won't even let me.

But I refuse to stop trying. I refuse to say that it's not my job to care. I refuse to worry about test scores at the expense of personhood. I refuse to say that they should all just be shunted away to be dealt with by someone else or somewhere else or stuck behind an electronic screen so we can all save a little bit of money out of our taxes.

I refuse to say it's someone else's problem. It's not. As Thomas Merton once said, The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.

They are part of me, and as I extend compassion and hope for healing to them, so do I receive in return hope for my own.

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