I took the day off today. Either that or get fitted for a straitjacket. People who don’t teach elementary school often wonder aloud how such tiny charming children can cause a grown person to need a Valium drip. There must be a good reason God does not give litters of twenty children to mothers. A roomful of seven-year-olds who are collectively in the throes of ADHD is not a pretty sight. It is rumored that some educators are on intimate terms with Jack Daniels. And while I wouldn’t know about that, I certainly am not in a position to condemn.
There are the group dynamics (which can render you certifiable in short order), and then there are the individual kids, the ones you will never forget, no matter how long you live. Marquette, Tyler, Kaylan, Brandie, and Maria come to mind. The ones who, for one reason or another, require your special, undivided, unceasing, personal attention every minute of every day. You may as well just double up on your meds and get used to it. You sure aren’t going to change it.
Terry pretty well takes the cake in this area. He was in my class the year I taught kindergarten in an inner-city school. On more than one occasion, he asked permission to go to the restroom during lunch and proceeded to take himself on home. I guess he figured he’d covered enough for one day. I’d frantically search all the bathrooms on every floor and then call his house. “What’s up, Terry?” I’d ask, “Whatcha’ doing?” “Oh, just watching TV,” he’d answer. “Well, let me talk to your mama.” “OK.” Pretty soon, here would come Terry streaking past the window of the kindergarten with Mama hot on his trail. She’d chase him all the way down the hall waving a belt and yelling at the top of her lungs. Terry would come straight to me and wrap himself tightly around my legs. Which of course meant that her flailing was bound to include me. Occupational hazard.
How could I leave out Harold? Harold was an adventure all by himself. While he was a gifted artist (or maybe because he was, who knows?), he was completely oblivious to the fact that other people also inhabited the planet. He would bend over his intricate drawings of Viking ships, laboriously penciling in tiny details, and then reach out and smack someone when the notion struck him. He occasionally hung out the window and shouted obscenities at the passers-by. Even the principal was greeted one day with, “Hey, you old booty-snatch!” During recess he ambled about hunkered down in his jacket, sometimes talking to trees. Nothing about Harold was boring; he most assuredly marched to the beat of his own drummer. The school counselor referred him for testing and he was eventually transferred to another setting, so you can stop worrying about him.
I’m not so sure about Damien though. He tended to remove his socks and shoes and suck on his toes from time to time. Once, he pulled me down close, had me sit with him ear to ear, and asked eagerly, “Do you hear them? They’re talking in my head.”
Latessa always looked startled, like a deer in the headlights. And Andre informed me he was going to have a child when he got to high school because “Northside got a day care.” Marcus, dressed in ragged oversized clothes and smelling of pee and grime, spent every naptime curled up in my lap. And DeVante’s short story included a sentence stating that his dad was dead. “What happened?” I asked him gently. “My daddy had got shot by da po-lice,” was his plaintive reply. Dear God, these kids, these kids. You just want to wrap them up, take them somewhere safe, deliver them from evil.
The pay for teaching isn’t great and you do have to figure in the cost of a good therapist, but there is never a dull moment. There are kids to love and kids to try to love. And the chance to make a difference for a lifetime. That has to count for something.