Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Teaching / The 7th Grade Class at Lane Middle School.

I had a weird nightmare the other week.

I am not usually one to analyze my dreams/nightmares, and to be honest I normally can't remember any dreams/nightmares, anyway. In fact I doubt I ever, ever remember any real dreamy stuff that happens in my REM cycle or whatever, but sometimes in the early morning I rest in a half-asleep-half-awake state where some truly effed up stuff goes down in my brain. I think this is probably punishment for not actually just waking up and getting it over with. Sometimes I remember this stuff, although most of the time I wish I hadn't, because it makes me seriously uncomfortable when I do. Anyway. This nightmare was actually a little more logical than other freakshow-ish type things that occur in this dream state, if a little nerdier and amusing, meaning, it might be amusing to you.

It involved two of my students (two very random students) currently in the classes in which I'm almost done student teaching. I can't remember the first half of it, but the second half involved these students acting really silly. There was somehow a bottle of wine involved, and it came to it that I had somehow provided this bottle of wine, although I don't remember actually doing so in the dream/nightmare. [The students are 13.] One of the students, who never gets in trouble, was yanked out of the classroom and came back in tears. Then I was yanked out of the classroom--violently, like bruise-on-my-arm-worthy--by some scary, very official looking administration dude. He brought me to a meeting that was in an official looking board room type thing, full of official looking administration people. They were all very angry with me for providing alcohol to minors, and I essentially had no say in what was happening to me, which was that I was being kicked out (obviously). Like, I had to get out of their faces that every moment, was told I could never teach again. I asked, "Can I say bye to the kids first?" They said no. And I cried.

The day before this nightmare, I had worked a shift at my old receptionist job. I'm available to my old job as back-up when they really need someone, and I don't really mind going in, although it always feels like a weird time warp returning there. My conflicting emotions about this job, which I had for two and a half years, still haunt me sometimes. Sometimes I really kind of liked it, if just for the fact that:
1) I was good at it;
2) Everyone always told me I was good at it, which is satisfying;
3) It felt easy and comfortable sometimes, and it's satisfying to be paid for something easy and comfortable that you're good at.
Sometimes, I really kind of hated it, for the fact that:
1) It was in this rich suburb, full of rich suburbanites who made me feel plain awful about humanity sometimes. Like, sick to my stomach thinking about the things these people worry about and what they think is acceptable treatment of other human beings. I am a Portland person, I am not a rich suburb person;
2) I felt so unlike myself there most of the time. This is actually the best explanation I have for why I hated this job a lot of the time. I smiled and was friendly and efficient, I made things work for my co-workers and for the clients, and they liked me for it, but at the end of two and a half years, none of them really knew me. I know this is the case for many people in their jobs, but it made me feel weird.
I've also been somewhat stressed the last couple of weeks thinking about whether I wanted to take this part-time office job my old boss had recommended me for. While I was never quite sure what this job would entail exactly, I knew it meant going back to the suburbs and back to sitting at a desk for a good chunk of the week. While this didn't exactly sound awesome to me, I'm in an extremely, extremely poor financial situation at the moment (and trying to plan a wedding on top of it!) and so knew I really needed to consider it. In typical Jill fashion, I spent more time stressing myself out just thinking too much about it, instead of just making a decision and dealing with it.

So I had just spent time in old-receptionist-job mode, and couldn't stop thinking about this new potential job. And then I had to go back to what I've actually been doing for the last nine months: teaching. Getting my master's in education, or whatever. My mind had to say to itself: "Okay, warp back into teacher mode now!" Only thing is, sometimes it takes my mind and body a little while to actually accomplish this warping. It feels sluggish and weird and confusing. And then I had the nightmare.

Here's the cheesy conclusion of this long, drawn-out story which I had to draw for myself: I'm not normally a dream-analyzing kind of person, but I think the point of the nightmare was that I need to be a teacher. It felt like a nightmare when I was torn away from the kids. I mean, maybe the message was supposed to be about drinking less alcohol, but, eh, that's what I'm taking away from it.

I was never one of those people who KNEW I wanted to be a teacher, who went straight from high school to undergrad education classes and grew up being a summer camp counselor. (And to be honest, I think teachers who have seen a little bit of the world and had some internal struggles themselves about their lives end up being better, or at least more empathetic, teachers.) I was never even one of those people who knew I liked children! Going into this year of student teaching was exciting but also scary. I believe in public education, I believe in the potential of every student, I believe in Jonathan Kozol, I believe in equity, I believe education has wronged way too many children, I believe in a whole bunch of stuff. Believing in stuff is all different from actually standing in front of a room of kids, and since I always shaked and shuddered anytime I had to give a presentation in front of anyone in the previous 398473 years of my schooling, I had no idea how I would do.

What I learned this year: I feel more like myself talking to 13 year olds than I do anywhere else. I'm a better Jill around kids than I am anywhere else. I in fact feel like I understand the kids in certain ways much, much better than some teachers who have been doing this teaching thing for years. Going into any new situation with kids is always scary, but I think I could in fact be very, very good at this. Even if I had taken that office job (which I'm not), in the end, this is who I am.

Even when I am screaming at them, even when I am so absolutely disgusted and filled with rage at the things they say and do to each other and to everyone around them. Even when I am doubting myself. Even when I am feeling cynical about the system. At the root of things, I am still so much happier at the end of the day than I was at that old job. I may be angry, but I am myself. And I am trying to make things better.

Tomorrow is my last full day at Lane Middle School, and it's approached quickly during a busy time, and to be honest I have't even given much thought to it. I don't have any awesome last-day plans or speeches or games for the kids like I thought I would. I've already gotten all the appreciation from the kids I would ever want over the last couple of weeks. I'll probably just say bye, have a great summer, here's my email, keep reading. Oh, and keep reading. Really, read. And then I'll pack up all the books I've brought in this year, whatever ones aren't hiding under kids' beds, and go.

But next week, I know I'll probably get sad when I realize I won't be making the daily trek to middle school, won't see these guys every day, maybe ever again. I will be bummed. I meant to keep a journal of hilarious quotes kids said, or ridiculous things they did throughout the year, but that never happened. So, for posterity, and since I know I'll forget if I don't, here's a list of some of the things I've liked the most with this 7th grade class of 2010-2011 at Lane Middle School, Portland Public Schools, Portland, Oregon.
  • Pre-1st period conversations with A____.
  • Anytime I ever showed them or said something I thought was cool but thought they would just think was nerdy and they responded, "That's tight."
  • P____'s random singing. P____, in general.
  • A____ yelling "That's bull!" every five minutes.
  • A_____ friending me on Goodreads and sending me amazing, thoughtful messages.
  • When AVID went really smoothly and fun; the classroom atmosphere of the room in general; Ms. T_____'s dedication and passion. A_____ & M__: they never stop talking to each other, but man, such charmers.
  • T_____. Drove me crazy at times, but such a serious, good, hard-working kid when it gets down to it.
  • S___'s letter he wrote to Rick Riordan that I sent for him.
  • Any and all kids who wanted to talk to me about books.
  • 4th period. I yelled at them so much but I love them so much. They will last the longest in my memories. They are so intelligent and creative and mature. Some of my favorites from 4th: K____ & T______, two kids who are so great and who have been told that they're "bad kids" so, so many times in their lives. I really have a soft spot for K___; he's so smart. T___ & A_____ are also two of the toughest and smartest girls I've ever met. Their toughness actually intimidates and irritates me at times, but I am tough in my judgment of girls, I think. It's hard not to be.
  • "She be floatin."
  • Waving to D_______ & T___ as they walk to and from school when I pass them on my bike.
  • R_____, so small and sweet, who says "Hi Ms. Guccini!" every time she sees me, even though I hardly ever even had her in class.
  • When C___ included punctuation in his writing for the first time, after I told him "periods!' ten times. And him saying "Yeah, I know, I need periods," as soon as I looked at his paper.
  • J______, so big-hearted and optimistic and eager to learn.
That's all I got for now. I know there's more. But just this list? Already more than enough.

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