I walked up the steps today with my hands full. Books in one hand, and my lunch of boxed Indian food in a plastic bag in the other. Chanae, a student I taught last year, spied me from two flights of steps up and held the door for me as I bounded up the stairs. Surprised that someone would notice that I was struggling and then hold the door that long, I thanked her, and made my way in. I ran into Jim, the oldest member of our department, who has a sly grin on his face. His eyes twinkling, he say to me, "How you doing today, (Epiph)?"
"Just fine, Jim, and yourself?"
"Good," he laughs. "I'm just trying to figure out what pre-maternal sex is."
He showed me the essay in his hand. A kid had meant to write pre-marital sex, but had screwed up. Goofy student errors definitely make us English teachers giggle.
I make my way towards the office with more energy than usual. I'd taken Ny-Quill on Monday night, and sort of felt it most of Tuesday, so this morning felt fresh and new. I've also been working out lately from 8pm - 9:30pm instead of before school, so I've been sleeping in a little bit more than usual. I'm feeling good.
As I walk, no fewer than one hundred kids say "Hi" or "Good morning" to me. I remember all their names, even ones I taught three years ago. I say hi to all the kids who I don't know, and all their replies are quick and pleasant. Every kid seems to be smiling this morning. It strikes me that this is the future of this city, and I feel happy and proud.
Nothing could break my stride now, and nothing does. The day goes swimmingly. First period, my Honors class, is spot on. They're working their butts off and I do my best to lay hard into all the kids who didn't come prepared. Second period turns in some mediocre work, and I call them all out on it, calling their work terrible and demanding a rewrite. They spend the rest of class redoing their outlines, begging me for my initials of approval, and by the end of class, ever kid leaves with a solid outline for their essay. Fifth period does much better than second period, and I'm happy with that, and tell them I'm proud of them. I taught hard today, and it felt good. I was exhausted by the end of the day.
About six kids stay after school for help on their essays, and we stay there until nearly six o'clock. I bond with this kid Richard, who is one of the brightest and most charismatic kids I've ever taught, but failed every course last semester. Another teacher and I sat with these kids for a while, and bit by bit, I heard more and more about his life. He hasn't seen his mother in years. His father is long gone. He lives in Remington with a slightly older female second cousin, her girlfriend, and the girlfriend's 7-year old son. He's out until 10 or 10:30 every night, and that's earlier than usual. His best friend never made it out of middle school and was arrested and put into rehab last summer. Richard misses school, or at least first period, about once every four days. And despite having the highest reading composite score of any incoming ninth grader this year - higher than all the private school kids - he failed every single one of his classes for the first semester. Including mine.
Kids like him would really get me. He's the kind of kid who I really want this school to be able to hang onto, but he's fucking up so bad that they won't be able to. He tells me that this quarter will be different - and, indeed, he stayed with me until 6 o'clock after school tonight working on his essay, before I gave him a ride home so he could pick up his second cousin's girlfriend's son (who he calls his little brother) so he can cook him dinner - that he's really going to get his shit together now. We'll see. He's the type of kid that I'd just like to adopt. Have him stay in my basement bedroom for the rest of his high school years. And then I realize that it's a ridiculous notion. Hearing about how this kid is taking care of really disillusions me. I've met the second cousin. She's 24 or 25. She obviously has no business with a 15 year old kid, but for all I know she's the only one in the extended family that would take him in.
At least I'd like to send this kid on Outward Bound, so he sees that there's more to life than Baltimore.
So thinking about this kid's life make me riled up, but as I drove he and another kid home, my disillusionment was replaced by joy. If he can still be this great of a kid with the life he leads, and the other kid was a bright hardworking one as well, then something is going right for them. And I dropped them off feeling like I started the day - like nothing is going to hold me back, that nothing is going to break my stride. I've got to keep on moving. I'm off to the gym.
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