I woke up this morning with a familiar pit in the bottom of my stomach. It’s a very specific feeling… the uneasiness of having to process something about my family. My extended family is complicated, to say the least. I often teeter between loving them and really disliking them. I figure that’s a normal thing.
I’m the black sheep. I’m the intellectual academic born amongst a family of blue collar Italians. I am the only one with a four year degree, much less a graduate degree. The acceptance of that is another thing that teeters. I’ve felt like an outsider my entire life.
Back when George W. Bush was president, liberals were regularly accused of being disloyal or anti-American if they disagreed with the policies the administration was undertaking. As Bush himself said, you were either with us or with the terrorists, and as far as many of his supporters were concerned, “us” meant the Bush administration and everything they wanted to do, including invading Iraq. You may have noticed that now that there’s a Democrat in the White House, conservatives no longer find disagreeing with the government’s policies to be anti-American; in fact, the truest patriotism is now supposedly found among those whose hatred of the president, and the government more generally, burns white-hot in the core of their souls.
Teaching can be an incredibly isolating professional experience. Sure, we are always part of a community of teachers. They’re next door, down the hall, on the next floor, a few miles away, etc. If you’re as lucky as I am, you have a few close friends who you can talk to when you need guidance. But most of the time we’re leading a group of kids on our own. It’s rare that we really get to see each other in action.
I just got back from a weekend in Washington D.C., the trip that I planned for the eighth grade class. It was a struggle to get chaperones, so my principal took over and recruited four more to the two who offered to go already. Honestly, I didn’t know any of them very well. Okay, honestly, I had only really spoken to one of the three and I didn’t even know her that well. It made me nervous, but I relinquished that control to someone who clearly knew them much better than I did.
Spoiler alert: By the end of a crazy weekend, I realized how incredible educators are. These are just some of the reasons why. (Names are initialed for obvious reasons.)
On the way down on the girls bus, we watched Frozen and joined in the sing-along. Then we watched it again the next day. Then we had a sing-along without the movie. But we smiled and sang along. I still have “Let It Go” stuck in my head.
As I was taking pictures of the kids in front of the Capitol Building, I walked around the stone wall to join the group again. Standing by the edge, a student was throwing up and J was standing with him, telling him everything was okay. He spent the rest of the day looking after the boy, taking him outside for fresh air whenever he needed it. He never complained or joked about it. He didn’t brag that he gave up his own time. He just did what he had to do and the kid felt better the next day.
On our way to the zoo, our buses stopped at a red light. There was a homeless man on a bench having some sort of fit. On the girls’ bus, the second a few giggles started, my boss said one word to them: “Compassion.” The laughing stopped and we sat in silence. On the boys’ bus, K, one of the male chaperones with a background in law enforcement, made it a teachable moment by telling them that the fit was the possible result of drug use, most likely PCP.
I was lucky enough to be on the bus with a history teacher who could probably give her own tours of D.C. She was the best mixture of authoritative, knowledgeable, and funny. She had us in stitches constantly. Not only did the kids learn a lot, but I did too.
As I mentioned in my last post, we had major bus issues which resulted in multiple breakdowns on the way home. We had to face things we never expected to face and this is truly when I saw my colleagues as quiet heroes. When the one bus finally had enough and broke down, K took charge and came up with a solution. The male teachers transferred suitcases to the other bus on the side of a dark highway. E, my roommate, got into flight attendant mode and directed the girls to move bags and make room for the boys. We all stood on the way to the truck stop so the kids could sit down.
The truck stop, though… the truck stop. Something I will likely never forget. It could have been bad. It could have been really, really, really bad. But it wasn’t. We traded stories and laughed to the point of crying. Maybe it was the exhaustion, I don’t know. But we all managed to make the best of it while the kids charged their phones and took advantage of the arcade and massaging chairs. It was all we could do at that point because the second we lost it, their trip would be affected and we were there for them.
Everything is always about them.
We strive to make them better people. We strive to give them lessons of a lifetime. We strive to show them that even in the most uncomfortable of situations, they can make the best of it if they want to. We strive to show them a world outside of their own.
This is why, no matter what my state throws at me, I stay. This is why we stay. Because educators are awesome.
|Male student #1:||You bought ice cream? You haven't eaten much.|
|Male student #2:||You think I have erection issues?|
|Me:||No no no no no. I'm walking ahead now.|
|Female student:||Let's get on the Nope Bus, Miss.|
First, the girls’ bus lost the AC on the way down and the bus got to 95 degrees. Then, the boys’ bus broke down three times on the way home. That constituted a half-hour stop on the highway, a one-hour stop at a McDonalds (with 80+ kids), then a two-hour stop at a truck stop until 11pm. We were on the road for 9 hours.