Friday, February 14, 2020

My Vitriolic Valentine


How do we know it’s that bad? He sent me an email that was maybe an apology, or more likely one of those “sorry you’re such a fruitcake” non-apologies, and I didn’t even read it. Instead, I blurred my eyes out of focus so as not to accidentally ingest any possible doubled-down toxicity as I clicked through all the necessary steps to send it and any further attempts at contact directly to my Junk Mail folder.

And even though it happens to be Valentine’s Day, this has nothing to do with ghosting some bad old boyfriend. No. I’m ghosting my son’s high school guidance counselor instead.

I don’t care to share my son’s business on here, but I do want to write about my own experience of the fallout from my attempt at helping him sort out some things at school. I want to share it because it was one of the more surreal moments in my 10 years of IEP team meetings, and I need to air it out before it rots in my soul and hurts forever.

The last time something like this happened, The Boy was 4 or 5 years old, still in preschool and undiagnosed. Some preschool dad went full asshole on me on the playground. Screamed at me “I’m sick of YOU, I’m sick of your KID! He should be kicked out of school!”



I high-roaded it and waited for an apology that never came. I heard through the grapevine that his wife was “torn” – appalled by hubby’s bad behavior but super-proud of him for standing up to, um, that autistic kid and his mom on a preschool playground. I saw him years later at some kid’s birthday party and he actually tried to talk to me as if nothing had happened. Ha. I saw him again at a high school open house a few years ago and I actually moved seats so I wouldn’t have to see the back of his big stupid head.

There have been a lot of awful moments between then and now on the ASD Road to Life in the Mainstream, but that first moment is the one that can still bring bitter tears to my eyes all these years later.

Today, though, I might have to crown a new king of that particular domain.

He didn’t like that I’d emailed at night and then expected to hear back by late morning. He didn’t like that I said I’d drop by the school that afternoon if I didn’t hear back. “Didn’t like” is putting it mildly, though. He rhetorically tore me several new ones today. Scolded. Talked over me. Scoffed and made these little high-pitched laughing sounds. Kept on going even after I’d said “Please stop, you’re making me uncomfortable.” I am not exaggerating any of this. And yes, I admit that my whole email/drop-by strategy was on the obnoxious side, but the vitriol he spewed in my general direction….he hated me in that moment. Hated me for sending an obnoxious email when I was confused and upset and worried about my kid. Hated me for showing up at that meeting still upset and worried and confused.

He tried to explain how busy teachers are. I told him I know that, because I am also a teacher. He told me he was surprised to hear that I’m a teacher, because I don’t conduct myself like a professional educator. He told me my email was bullying. The Boy was sitting right there crying. I started crying too. Nevertheless, he persisted. Eventually he had to leave for another meeting, and it was time for The Boy’s dentist appointment anyway, and we left.

Yes. This all really happened. I don’t believe it either.

So. I didn’t curl up in a ball and die like I wanted to. I cried in my car for maybe 30 minutes, replied to the administrator’s apologetic email with a simple, straightforward account of what had happened, gathered my wits about me, and drove to my own school.

My students had been making valentines…little choppy pink and red hearts and scraps of pink and red paper all over the floor. They were so excited about our upcoming mid-winter break that they all joined in with the kid who makes fart noises and fart-noised up the joint until I begged them to stop and a girl explained “Fart noises are how you know we LOVE you, Ms. Floor Pie!”

Still, in the pit of my heart I kept hearing it. “You don’t conduct yourself like a professional educator.”

When the kids went joyfully home for the day, I cried all over again. A few colleagues have reassured me that I’m not crazy and that I did not, in fact, deserve that level of vitriol. But I’ve been at this game long enough to know that I’m never going to change vitriolic minds.

So, okay. I don’t need to.

But I also don’t need to shut up about it.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Never Not Broken

Art by Emily Winfield Martin

Part One: Love

What I hear is a very familiar outburst of “SHIT!” in a high-pitched child’s voice, trying out the power of that word. So familiar, in fact, that it barely registers at all except for the out-of-place surroundings.

She’d made a mistake, knocked some things over, spilled the coffee. It’s pretty much the only reaction you could expect if it were water instead of coffee, my classroom filled with middle schoolers instead of a posh organic grocery store filled with posh organic shoppers. I am one of them in many ways: Prius in the parking lot, well-crafted fingerless mittens on my hands, and the money to pay for a mini-cart filled with fresh organic oranges and cookies and grapes.

But in just as many ways, I am not one of them at all. I don’t look up or even grimace when she hollers “SHIT!” and spills the coffee. I don’t freeze up until I hear the stern man’s voice in response: “Go. Now. Without your coffee. GO!”

I only look when she strides right past me out the door, not a child but a grown woman, striding out the door and down the sidewalk screaming “FUUUUUCK! AAAHHHHHH!” like it’s just another Thursday at my job, except there’s no staff of loving adults who will graciously head her off; no quiet counselor’s office for her to take deep breaths and plunge her hands into some kinetic sand; no one to bring her a granola bar and ask her if she’s ready to try again.

In the posh organic grocery store, there is only nervous laughter and commiseration among the staff and shoppers. If they were my students, we’d unpack it. I’d insist on grace and respect for the person who is struggling, but I’d make a space for the others to share their feelings about it. We’d share stories about the times when we got angry and lost it. We’d even reminisce about the time when I got angry and lost it. (“You were SO MAD, Ms. Floor Pie! We thought you were gonna quit that day!” So did I, children. But I felt much better after I took a break and came back when I was calm.) And then I’d remind them that we’re not robots and that we all experience anger and frustration. It’s what we do next that counts. And we’d make a plan for how to welcome the student back in when they were ready.

But it’s a grocery store, not my classroom, so I just keep rattling my mini-cart up and down the aisles, taking the deep breaths I wish I could have coached that woman to take and feeling pretty certain it wouldn’t have done a damn bit of good anyway. People say it all the time. We’re doing them a disservice. What about the Real World? What will they do then, when there’s no kinetic sand and no breaks in the counselor’s office and no granola bars and only a cold world of consequences? What then?

“Sorry about that interruption, ma’am,” says the manager when I pause by the La Croix’s to decide on a flavor. He looks like a younger, more earnest Ron Swanson. He probably thinks I look so shell-shocked because somebody yelled “SHIT” in my favorite posh organic grocery store.

I’m supposed to tell him it’s okay, but I can’t find the words. So instead I just blurt, “I work with mentally ill children.”

This is a pretty big exaggeration, but not entirely untrue. Not to mention rhetorically effective. The flash in his eyes.

So I keep blurting, motioning to the fruit and cookies in my cart. “All of this food is for them. They’re having their Writers Celebration today and every single one of them, even the ones who hate school the most and always refuse to do work…every single one of them wrote a story.”

He nods, maybe wondering what my point is. There’s no real need to keep blurting, but there I go anyway. “And I’m so PROUD of them, but I’m so worried about them, too. That woman sounded just like some of my students when they get angry, and I feel like I just saw how the rest of the world will see them when they grow up…and I know that no matter how hard I work every day and how much progress they make, there’s really nothing I can do to…to keep that from happening to them.”

And then, because I can read true empathy on his face, and because I’m pretty sure he cares but has no clue what to actually say, I add “But I know you have a job to do and a store to run. I understand.”  And truly, I did.

“Thank you,” was all he said. But he really meant it.

 Art by Emily Winfield Martin

Part Two: Hate

Weeks later, during a particularly wonderful but also particularly challenging school year, I’m still pondering that episode. I’d meant to write it up as a Christmas-themed blog post, but something stopped me. Maybe I didn’t want to put a false glow on something that, in fact, is not as glowingly simple as that story makes it appear.

Weeks later, in fact, I found myself crying slow, calm, steady tears in a movie theater by myself on a Thursday afternoon instead of in my classroom, where I should have been.

I was at the movies because my principal had sent me home for the day.

My principal sent me home for the day because I’d straight-up lost it in her office, sobbing and sobbing because one of my students, in his disability-manifested anger, had ranted at me in the hallway in a particularly sexist and rape-culture tone, and because he’d recruited another of my students to join in, both of them braying the joyless laughter of white men reclaiming their power.

I was crying because several female colleagues I love and trust did most assuredly NOT have my back on it, in fact high-roaded and blamed me for it. (“He’s just a baby,” one of them is reported to have said in a department meeting the next day.)

I was crying because this is not the first time something like that has happened.

I was crying because every time it happens, the message is “Floor Pie, you’re just too sensitive. You need a therapist. You need to get your shit together on your own time.”

I was crying because, as rotten as it feels when stuff like this happens, I absolutely do NOT want to quit this job. I can’t keep myself from it. It’s the only thing I’m this supernaturally good at. It’s the only thing that makes me feel like I’m worthy of taking up my privileged space in this world. I’m called to it. I love it even when I hate it. I couldn’t quit it if I tried.

Art by Emily Winfield Martin

Part Three: Resolve

This story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, and neither does this work. I came to it with passion and ferocity, but that doesn’t mean I get to be the heroine of the narrative.  And, like I tell my students, I’m not just some right-doing robot. I get hurt and blow up too, just like they do. And when that happens, I take a break, maybe curse in the privacy of my own home instead of posh grocery stores and classrooms. I cry soundlessly in the back rows of movie theaters. Then I go home and watch TV with my kids, plan little vacations, order Indian food with extra samosas. I talk it through and through and through with my husband who tries to make me feel better by saying things like “Well, you work in public education. Public education is messed up.”

This work breaks me. But…this work builds me. This work lets me feel hopeful in an increasingly hopeless world; it lets me feel like I am doing something helpful for the people most likely to be steamrolled under the emerging dictatorship we’re all living with because we can’t bring ourselves to die for the cause just yet.

So, here I am. Hating what I love, loving what I hate, joyful and striving and so very, very tired. There are things I could do next. There are ways I could keep doing this but make the parts of it that suck at least suck less. There are good days, bad days, unmemorable days, and summer vacations. There are times – lots of times – when I feel connected to this world with benevolence and joy. There are times when I’m counting the days to the next school break. What’s next for me and this gloriously ridiculous career? One way or another, for better or for worse, it’s likely to be more of the same.

That’s not a happy ending. But I suppose it’s a hopeful one.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Heroic Toaster Oven

The other day, our yoga teacher taught us about Akhilanda, a goddess whose name literally means Never Not Broken. Strangely apt.

So, winter break draws to a close and a new decade begins with an entire continent on fire; begins with another country bombed by orders of a petulant impeachee; begins with children who should be my students by now still caged and traumatized at the border, and my social media feed is mad that not enough people know or care.
The social-media shaming about our silence and complicity really stings, I’ll admit. I mean…I still haven’t done anything about any of it. Two summers ago I held up this sign at local rallies. Every so often I send little donations here or there. There’s a part of me that sees the news and rages and dies inside, believing I should be out there burning shit down instead of feeding the cats and taking down the Christmas tree. But here I am.

It’s been nice having two weeks off…not just from work, but from the whole swirling vortex of humanity that is public middle school special education. It’s been nice to clean my house, go to movies, eat full meals, and spend time with family and friends like an actual human person.

When I dive back in on Monday, I won’t be sorry. I’ll simply enter a different dimension; switched from ‘off’ to ‘on’; a swimming pool opening for Memorial Day weekend, busy and flooded and serving its purpose. This is my purpose.  

And I don’t mean “this is my purpose” in a grandiose way. I mean it simply. Functionally. Not heroically. Less like Wonder Woman, more like…I don’t know, a toaster oven or public transportation or something. A mundane and necessary miracle that’s actually widely available and everyone’s gotten used to by now. I’m a toaster oven that loves being a toaster oven because I AM A TOASTER OVEN. What else can I be?

But, while we’re all still in a New Year’s reflective state of mind, I’ll also add that this whole business of becoming a special education teacher kind of was my own little ‘hero’s journey’ of the past decade. It started with The Boy, who will be turning 16 this year and that part is no longer my story to tell. Suffice it to say that through his story, I found my way in to this chapter of my own. It felt heroic at the time. It felt like I’d saved my own kid from a burning building and then went running back into that building to save as many others as I could.

I believed in my heart that I could work for and within that system without being coopted by it. And…you know…I sort of can. But it doesn’t look or feel anything like you might expect. It’s lonely. It’s strategic. It’s political. It’s complicated. It's fraught with opportunities to fail. It’s just hard work. Hours upon hours of relentless work. There are folks who would have read my blog and cheered me on back in the day who pretty much think I suck now, or that my school does. One of my best friends and mentors used to tease me about ‘siding with the oppressor.’ Meanwhile, among my colleagues and administrators I am always and forever Luna Lovegood at the Ravenclaw table. Quibbler, anyone? 


And so, between the sober reality of being more toaster-oven than heroine and the even-more-sober reality of our literal world being on fire/at war/doubling-and-tripling-down on the intentional traumatizing of children at the border…I have to say…I still kind of want the cape. 

I want my little endeavors in my little corner of this doomed world to count for something, It has to mean more than just scrambling to stay afloat at a challenging job while Australia burns into the sea. Even (especially?) in the context of this post-45 apocalyptic terror storm we're all living in, I need to believe that the work I'm doing is somehow part of a solution. I want this story – this 10+ years story that is the Floor Pie blog – to have an uplifting ending, and I want Tina Fey to play me in the movie version.  

Basically, I just want to keep telling this story like it’s a story…not like the middle class medium latte with a side order of compromises and Powerpoints that it actually is. My being-a-toaster-oven notwithstanding, there truly are still loads of good strong stories to tell. Maybe this year, some of them will find their way to the pages.

Happy New Year.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Speak Up, Shut Up

Art by Emily Winfield Martin

Am I on the autism spectrum myself? People have joked that I am, behind my back but supposedly with love. Did I really never talk when I was in preschool and early elementary school? I know I did. At home I did, anyway. I was the Master of Ceremonies, Kermit the Frog of the Muppet Show, ordering my little sisters around. At school? I don’t know. I remember lots of people, teachers and students alike, being concerned that I “didn’t talk.” This perplexed me. How could I talk when no one was starting a conversation with me? What was I supposed to do? Just, like…talk? To nobody? To anybody? It made no sense.

But all through school I was weird, weird, weird. Too bossy at home with my sisters, too introverted everywhere else. There was a little success in being funny; in making fun of myself before it occurred to anybody else. Now that was a crowd pleaser. Making myself the joke. Meanwhile I was studying the normal people and trying to learn how be like them. Had it pretty well mastered just in time to go to college and be sneered at by all the people who were cultivating weird. Again…it made no sense.

Eventually I figured out who and how I actually wanted to be, and life got good. I put the weird years behind me, never fully believing I’d been particularly weird in the first place. Even then, I blamed it on context. Normal old Berks County, PA not knowing what to make of a girl who was sometimes funny and sometimes didn’t even talk. Didn’t let the door hit me on the ass on the way out. Found my people, found my friends, found my lovers, found this job and that, found my way.

There was a part of me that was always afraid it would show in up the gene pool, though. And sure enough, it did…but not at all in the way I was expecting. For there was The Boy in all his fierce and furious glory. Oh, he talked all right. He was athletic and smart. And he was fearless, or so it seemed. I was so relieved and proud.

Until….well. We know this part of the story. The Boy’s on the autism spectrum, and having a name for it ignited my own dormant superpowers, and I blasted my way back into a teaching career, running back into some figurative burning building to save everyone else now that I’ve saved my own child and myself.

You know who hates that origin story? Administrators. Even the good ones. Save everyone? From a figurative burning building? I don’t know where they all learned how to do this, but they all know how…they can somehow just switch off their mirror neurons at will and become a vacuum devoid of any and all social cues. I’ve seen it so much now, from my own son’s IEP meetings to casual conversations with colleagues. You have to stay “positive,” where “positive” is defined as “never critical of the school district in any capacity, ever.”  Speak up. But also…shut up. Even my non verbal social cues are too much. Too much nodding in sympathy, too much eyebrow raising, validating some family’s narrative that could land us all in hot water if we don’t watch out.

When I was brand new, and working in a building where it never occurred to anybody to see me as much of a threat, an angry mom showed up in the office during 3rd period. The office called to tell me. They asked discretely if I wanted them to call security. I said no. Instead, I asked them to send up someone to cover my class and told them I was coming down. They let me. I think they were just too surprised to know any better.

The mom was there in the lobby, fierce and frothing. “Let’s get out of here,” I said matter of factly, and told the receptionist I was going off campus. Again…they let me. To this day I am amazed I got away with it.

We walked. It was a splendid autumn day in a fancy West Seattle neighborhood. Bright blue sky, juicy yellow leaves splashed all over the lawns and sidewalks. I offered to take her out for coffee. Stunned, she agreed. As we walked the few blocks to the cute little neighborhood coffeehouse, I apologized for what had been happening. I explained all the backstory. Explained which steps would be in her and her son’s best interest. I told her all the things I liked about her son. And I told her about my own son, and all the struggles we’d had in our early days of having an IEP. She ordered a hot cider and I ordered a nice hot coffee for myself, and we sipped and chatted. I was back in time to teach my 4th period class. And although we had our ups and downs for the rest of her son’s time at that school, she never, ever showed up at school ready to kick someone’s ass again.

I’m proud of that story, but I’m terrified to ever tell it to anyone I work with. I was just following my instincts. Doing what I thought was right. My instincts are good, is the thing. At least…I think they are? Hard to tell anymore. More often than not, my instincts tend to get me in more trouble than an anxious little introvert can bear.

You’re too quiet. Unless you’re too loud. You’re too much. And you’re definitely not enough.

Last year, a gen ed language arts teacher pulled me aside and said, with a mean-girl smile on her lips “I think you’re confused.” She didn’t like how I’d been helping the students with IEPs navigate their way through her assignment. I had a simple explanation. I wanted to speak up. I started to explain.

But the tears came. And nausea.

I excused myself to the nurse’s office. (It’s mighty nice working somewhere with a nurse’s office.) By then I was pouring sweat and shaking. And the tears and the tears the tears the tears.

They called the paramedics. My blood pressure was so high, they worried I might be having a heart attack. Too much. Shut up.

I cried until my teeth chattered. I shook.

But I wasn’t having a heart attack. Later, my doctor reassured me that I was at extremely low risk of that particular problem. Panic attacks, though. That’s another story.

Aren’t I so weird? Who has a panic attack just because some sorority girl teacher is an asshole to you? Me, I guess. Go tell the people who think I’m on the autism spectrum. They’ll find it hilarious.

Well.

It was a year ago. Teachers in my district get three free visits to a therapist per school year, so I used all three learning how to successfully breathe my way out of an approaching panic attack. I haven’t had another one since then, knock wood.

But I’m hurting, my friends. I’m hurting and carrying all the internalized otherness of my youth with me in the bottom of my gut after all these years. I don’t know how to navigate the world like a “normal” person, and it scares me so much. Speak up? Shut up? I never can get it right.

A high-up higher-up person sat me down recently, after a meeting that had the potential to be awful but somehow hadn’t been…possibly because I’d kind of hit it out of the park? She told me as much. A rare honor. Such a finely articulated compliment, and from a revered administrator who rarely ever gives them. All the things I’d done well. All the things I’d done right. All the good things about me in general. There were some “but’s.” There were some pointers. There was some heavily-veiled subtext, but I’ll never know what it was.

Still and all…they see my worth. I mean…they see it to a point.

I can’t shut up. Even when I know I’m supposed to. And lots of the time, I can’t speak up, either. Not in a way that anyone will hear.

The thing is, I know I’m good. I never ever would have attempted a career in teaching middle school special ed if I believed otherwise. I know deep in my heart that my very weirdness leaves a deep and powerful well of awesome within me, to the point where I kind of can’t not be awesome. I’m just…awfully sloppy about it most of the time, and it’s hard for the other grown-ups to see.

The kids, though? They see. And I guess that’s the only possible closure this story can have. So I’ll just keep trying; navigating this path because I’m viciously compelled to, sometimes awesome, sometimes awkward, sometimes just plain tired. It doesn’t always have to make sense.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Periods



Threshold
I understand Spanish but I can barely speak it. They crack up when I catch them teasing a classmate about her “novio,” and want to see what else I’ll understand, trying to out-do each other with nastier and nastier words, gleefully watching my face to see if I know what they’re saying. There's an adorable joyfulness about it, like when a 4-year-old chases you. These dudes were 4 not that long ago. It's heartwarming to see it in their faces.

Elopement
The trick with Student P is to not go looking for him. “I’m good at hiding,” he’ll say proudly.  Once he realizes that I’m not looking for him, though, he’ll always come and find me. Wide-eyed and joyful, hates work but loves his teachers, refuses to write until he finally sits down and cranks out something that could be the opening act for Being John Malkovich. He is open and raw and soft and scarred; no posturing whatsoever; almost terrifyingly childlike and amiable. There’s a raging darkness in there that I wouldn’t dare attempt to peer into. But I sense it.

Prep
I didn’t plan this conversation. I didn’t even know I was going to see Student Q today. He’s not my student anymore. I barely recognize him anymore. But we’re happy to see each other and I want to say something, so it falls right out of my heart. “I’m worried about you.” And his face…just opens. It’s as if there’d been a hard shell around it, and I can see it just crack right open. We just talk. It’s a really good talk.

Every single person I tell this to is quick to remind me “It’s not going to do anything” and “You can’t change him” and “You can’t fix this” and I flipping know that. I know that. But I don’t care. We had the conversation. We saw each other. We heard each other. That can be enough.

IEP Meeting
Right in the middle of this wacky week, I’m taking a half-day and signing on the “Parent/Guardian” line of an IEP signature page instead of my usual“Special Education Teacher” line.   

I never take The Boy to school, so I miss the turn and don’t know where to park. I don’t know which door to go in, either, and he is bemused by my incompetence. He’s taller than me now, and we’re walking down this high school hallway past all these teenagers and posters for the winter dance. Ten years ago I was having an existential crisis over whether he would be ready for kindergarten in the fall.

It’s a good meeting. He’s having a good year. But I still feel winded and broken at the end of it. If I’m really honest with myself, at the core I guess I still don’t see his deficits as deficits. And I’m deeply sad and sorry that the rest of the world does and always will.

I wish things could be different. But he’s happy and settling into adolescence without too much friction. He’s growing so fast and far beyond my reach. 

Class
Student R brings his colors to school but can’t quite bring himself to wear them. Folds and unfolds the crisp new bandanna on the table in front of him with a heartbreaking childlike reverence, like it’s his new dinosaur or train or science kit. People higher up than me have known for longer, they have more power, more knowledge, and they are trying to do what they can. So I just keep teaching. Teach the whole class, then sit with him and teach it all over again, and he’ll get out the work and try. He’ll usually try.

Department Meeting
It’s my turn to share a “positive” about my week. And even though this week has been beyond ridiculous, I know exactly what to say. Through all this storm and stress, I feel love for my students and trust in myself. And it strikes us all, the moment I say it, how simultaneously huge and insignificant that is. Love and trust.  Half full. Half gone. But half full.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Monday After

Art by Emily Winfield Martin
Thank God it’s Monday. Bless this gloriously rainy, drippy Monday piled to the ceiling with work to do from the moment I set foot in the building. GO.

How was my weekend? I watched too much news and felt too many feelings. SAME, responds Everyone, but there’s no time to commiserate and that in itself is a blessing. I roll right into my easy morning class and then the sweet luxury of striding through the misty rain to one of the portable classrooms to check on my students with their newly hired teacher, then back up to my classroom because some of her students still need new composition notebooks, back through the mist to the portables and then “I’m sorry Ms. Floor Pie, I need one too, I forgot” and back again, rain and stairs and stairs and rain and thank God for the healing task of going and getting. Moving. Helping.

Then it’s a meltdown upstairs, an easy one, a plain old chocolate-and-vanilla case of some hapless student teacher earnestly breaking the kid’s brain by casually remarking “The answer in the book must be wrong, then.” I miss the entirety of my prep period and go straight into my next class and the next one and the next one. Cold oatmeal from breakfast for lunch, forgot to photocopy the vocab baseline assessment so I’ve got to improvise something else, unexpected new student with rumblings of soon-to-be-discovered triggers, the yellow Theraputty got misplaced somewhere in the classroom, (but where?), holy moly the sixth graders actually remember a LOT of what they learned in elementary school, and the momentum of this day is a blessing, is all.

I’m not even thinking about the news.

Except I’m kind of constantly thinking about it, too.

The students have all gone home and I’m face down across several desks. PTSD, I shrug, because I’m blessed enough to have the kind of co-workers who get that.

I don’t work with kids who hit and bite anymore. Haven’t in years. When I couldn’t sleep last night, though, when anxiety was water-sliding the course of my nervous system and crashing into sadness, the thought popped into my head involuntarily. I hope some kid punches me right in the face tomorrow. I don’t know why I thought it. Or hoped it. Maybe just yearning for proof and validation, at last, that all this hurting is real.

“It’s like….it’s not that I ever liked getting hit or bitten,” I find myself explaining to a colleague. “It’s just that there was always something so satisfying about that bruise. It’s like, you can see it, so you know then that someone really did hurt you. You can trust yourself that it happened.”

She gasps and nods. “YES. Because you finally have proof!”

Solidarity.

They make you feel like it’s your fault. The thing is, when you’re the adult and they’re the child, it actually kind of is your fault.  

So we share tips for how we’re teaching about consent whenever we can, in the cracks, in the hallways, any unstructured time, really. She’s braver than me, and straight-up calls it consent. Drills her kiddos on it like it’s going to be part of state testing in the spring. “Do you have her consent? Did you give consent for that?”

She’s also been telling her grrls “You don’t have to be okay with that to be cool,” They roll their eyes, because of course they do. But more often than not, she sees relief on their faces when they hear it.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Advisory

Emily Winfield Martin
On the 5th day of school, he told us he didn’t have a math class. I thought he was joking when I saw the sly but sheepish gleam in his eye and a full grin on his usually-so-serious face.

“Lucky!” yelled the other kids.

“You must be really smart!” someone theorized.

“Wait, REALLY?” I asked, scrambling to enter the right password on my laptop to access a copy of his schedule. Sure enough, no math class.

“I just thought…that maybe not everybody gets to have math in middle school,” he reasoned earnestly.

I hastily composed an email to the registrar, who hand-delivered his corrected schedule within minutes.

On the 7th day of school, he looked up from his math homework to watch me trouble-shooting a classmate’s malfunctioning school-district-issued iPad.

“I wish I still had my iPad. I had one just like that one at my old school,” he said.

“Wait, REALLY?” I asked, scrambling to enter the right password on my laptop to access his elementary school teacher’s contact information. Sure enough, his own school-district-issued iPad had been lost in the shuffle. She’d found it just that morning and would arrange for a younger sibling to bring it home to him that afternoon.

The next day at school, he showed me a game on his iPad. I keep the classroom open during lunch for my students who prefer a quieter alternative to the cafeteria. We were peacefully munching and chatting sporadically, mostly focused on our books and phones (and teacher email).

“Can I show you my game?” he asked, and there it was, something mathematical, all multiples of 4 sliding hither and thither, speedy but pleasantly rote. He told me proudly that his mom had some incredibly high score at this game. Maybe somebody somewhere had a higher score, but she was the only person he knew with a score that high.  

“I would ask her what her strategy was,” he pondered matter-of-factly, “but I can’t. Because she had cancer. And she died.”

Wait.

"Really?”

His eyes were on his game. “Uh-huh.” The fours and eights and sixteens and thirty-twos slid and multiplied on his screen. Without looking up or speaking, his classmates tuned in almost instinctively, in stoic solidarity. Kids are braver than adults like that. They just know.

I didn't have to scramble for the right words. I know them well enough. So I said all the kind and correct things one says and asked the questions one asks, and he answered succinctly, but sincere. “Can you make sure that nobody comes and takes me out of class to talk about it?” was his one request. “They kept doing that at my old school. I didn’t even know who the people were.”

“Oh, I hate when they do that,” a classmate sympathized, and all the others chorused their agreement.

I reassured him that no one would do that to him here. I started to explain what resources are available at our school if he ever did want to talk to someone.

“Can I go back to showing you my game?” he said.

So we did.

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