I had a tough day today. It included but was not limited to: a fight, a book ripping, cheating, a Mom calling, and after school I got stuck in a parking deck and had to walk to the bank in the dark. When I got home today there was a piece of mail waiting for me. Someone had written me an encouraging note which made me cry because it was so needed. Sometimes I crave encouragement. Whenever I feel lacking, I try to write other people and encourage them. I feel like dwelling on my own inadequacies is not a good way to spend my time. Today, however, I got some encouragement and I am so grateful. God is so good.
I took Friday off. I needed some space. The kids probably did too since all in the same week we had the writing test, I was accused of owning slaves (see post below), and had a child walk out of my door screaming that he was going to get me fired before he slammed the door behind him. In addition to all that was the heartbreak of a normal week and it just all seemed to pile on me all at once and I had a break down in the corner of my room during my planning. I know this all sounds stupid perhaps, but sometimes I just really become aware that I could possibly be fighting a losing battle. Mother Teresa once said, "Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness." I feel that that is true as sometimes I just listen to the conversations that my students have and I grow sad. They are so unkind to each other, or talk about things way over their maturity level.
Today in fourth period, T. came in probably an hour late to class with a cafeteria tray full of food. He has a seat and then he asked me where I was today. I told him that I took a sick day. I asked him how the sub was. He told me that she wasn't me. I laughed and then he said, "How you gonna leave me like that?"
He might not have meant to encourage me. He probably didn't, since his chief goal in life sometimes seems to make my life harder, but my heart soared back up with hope. This precious boy, who is about as easy to love as it is to hug a porcupine, let me in ever so briefly. Even though he'd never admit it, I think that he knows that I care about him.
I am delighted and that right there is enough to get me to spring break.
Today I asked T. not to use the "N. word" for the three hundredth time.
He responded with the words, "Why, that's what we were to you."
Perhaps I haven't done my duty in teaching grammar, but I cannot explain how offended I was by that personal pronoun, and I told him simply that I was offended. He shot back, "You think slavery wasn't offensive to us?"
Possibly, this is the most offensive thing that's been said to me in a long time. It repulsed my entire being. I didn't even know what to do with myself, other than to grab my journal and write, fighting back hot, angry tears. I tried to reason through why his words were so offensive to me: was I responding in self-righteousness, were there truth to his words?
I have always prided myself on being fair and open, on trying to look past stigmas to see a person's heart. I try to do it on a daily basis with T. He is nothing but rude to me, he comes to class late every day if he even comes at all, is smart but lazy and clearly ignorant. He wants to be respected and feared which is why he acts so tough, but leaves little to respect. I cannot understand this we/us, either. I am willing to bet that no one he knows or has ever known has ever been a slave. Why is he holding this long defeated hammer of slavery over my head, ready to slam it down to offend all? When do we move past the past and move forward into the future that freedom fighters like Dr. King and Rosa Parks, and the Greensboro Four fought for? Is this racially inept of me? Is this self-righteous? Is this unfair of me?
T. lives in a group home. I have no doubt that he has had a difficult life. He swings out in hatred and bitterness at anyone who tries to love him. It is beyond me to love him anyways. Only by supernatural act of God am I able to look at him and love him ever.
He is quick to tell me that I don't know him, yet he judges me. This is not the first time this young man and I have discussed race. When I asked him to explain the struggles that he has on a daily basis due to his color, he just stared at me. If he will not enlighten me, who will? It's as though he thinks he's Ruby Bridges. I am sorry if this is an ignorant rant, but I cannot understand where this child is coming from. I also cannot understand what I would consider an attack on my character and my family.
And let's talk about that forbidden "N word." People died due to that word. It is a hateful, rude word. All the rappers in the world cannot redeem that word. It has only been used derogatorily. It is used to put people down, to crush their spirits. That is why that word and the "other f- word" are not permitted in my classroom. I reject all hateful words, said by anyone of any race or creed.
Also the idea that I, or my family, would view anyone in that way, is highly offensive. Not to mention that my family is from California, therefore bypassing this dreadfully distasteful conflict of the colors. They were no where near the South during the war between the states. Further more, neither was I. I was still in God's pocket and had yet to grace the world with my presence.
I cannot tell you why the words of a 15 year old little boy hurt me so deeply. Maybe it's because I interact with him on a daily basis, and I would hope that somehow he would know that I love race. I think it is a beautiful thing, created to show God's heart in such a unique way. Maybe it's because I try to love this boy, and over and over, all he does is respond with hate.
I am reminded that it's not personal but part of me can't help but wonder how it couldn't be. As I reflected on my own heart this evening, checking my response, wondering at my hurt, I began to pray for God's eyes.
God, can you help me see my student's hearts and how to react to them? I get frustrated because I lack the power to change hearts and minds. But you don't. I want to be good at what I do, but I don't really know how to be. I so lack the skills to truly inspire, or impact or teach, or even love. How can I show love? Give me your eyes. My being a teacher is supposed to be an act of love for you. But if I don't love as I do it, the purpose is defeated. Please wash my heart of the hurts and stings placed on my by my students. I give them to you. Even if no kid ever said anything kind to me the duration of my employment as a teacher, I would still be responsible for big love every day. Fill me up so streams of living water can flow out of me.
I am trusting God to do a work in my heart so I can go in tomorrow, ready to love just as passionately and radically as before.
It seems like there's always that kid that finds an excuse to stick around after school. Of course you have the kids who have to stay because they have make up time, or because they need help with something. But then you have the kids who say they need help, or who don't finish their work on purpose so they can stay. I love those kids. Although they may slow down my work after school, I think some kids just need a little extra attention, and I'm okay with giving it to them.
M stuck around today after school, even though he'd had plenty of time to finish his work in class. We had an interesting conversation about religion. He asked me if I was agnostic. I said no. He asked me if I was a Christian. I said, yes. He told me that he was Jewish and that the Jews killed Jesus. I explained to him that I didn't think that that was true, but that someone had to do it. He told me that I should come to temple with him sometime, and he told me about his Bar Mitzvah. Of course I must confess that at that point, I could only think of Seth Cohen.
It's so funny to me that religion has been barred from the public arena, yet belief is in our very souls. We can't help but believe in certain things, and to wonder what those next to us believe too.
I still wonder what it means to be a Christian teaching in a public school, but I can't imagine anywhere else I would rather teach. I know that these children are so precious to the heart of God, and I want to grow daily in the understanding of that. And in the understanding of God's heart for me. I am realizing that until I understand how precious and loved I am, I cannot loves others as well as I should.