A student made me cry today. No, he wasn't mean to me. Although, that wouldn't be unheard of.
My first class of the day is a "general" English course. It's designed for students who did not pass English 9 the previous year, due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes the material was beyond them. Usually, however, it's behavioural issues. Non-attendance. Disruptive classroom behaviour. Not handing in any assignments. You know the type. I quite like this particular group. They are funny, creative, and they are never boring. The down side is they are loud, hard to motivate, and getting written work from them is like pulling teeth.
This morning during the class, one student wanted to chat. He was avoiding work, and quite possibly trying to suck up to the teacher. He asked me why I teach.
Why do I teach? How to explain that to a student. I told him I love teaching. It's what I do, and it has become part of who I am. I cannot imagine not teaching.
He looked around the room. M. was leaning back against the wall, trying to roll a cigarette without me noticing. K. was sleeping on his desk. Two girls were gazing into compact mirrors. J. was pacing, twitching, dying for the bell to ring so he could go for a smoke. D. was working on the assignment, but his head and foot were both bouncing in time with the music pouring through his headphones.
He looked back at me. "Even when it's like this? How can you not want to just scream at us on days like this? What's the point of trying to teach a bunch of potheads like us?"
I looked around. It wasn't as bad as I've seen it, but it certainly wasn't a serene, productive learning environment. I sighed, and told him "Once in awhile a kid gets it. Just suddenly, they learn something. It might only be a small thing, it doesn't matter. But if I know I've taught one person one thing, then it's worth it. And even when no one's listening, I know that somehow the words are getting in there."
He shook his head. "You teachers are fricken' nuts."
The bell rang, the hostages poured out of the room. I wished them all a good weekend, and went on with the day. Until 3:45. The last bus had left, the week was finally over. I was in my room marking when the chatty guy from first class tapped on the door. I expected a song and dance about how he'd hand in his work "next week, I swear, I have it done but it's in my locker/my house/the car". But instead, he said "Mrs. F.? Thank you."
"Thanks for what?"
"Thanks for teachin' us. Thanks for coming back every day, no matter how bad we are. Thanks for always thinking we can do it."
Then he wished me a good weekend, and loped off down the hall. After he left the tears came. I'm a softy that way, good thing he doesn't know. I can take the cursing, the late-arrivals, the aroma of pot every day. I understand the sighs and groans whenever I assign work that requires paper and pen. I can be authoritative, strict, the boss of the room. But a simple, unexpected thank you totally undid me this afternoon.
After I blew my nose, I fished out his journal and wrote him a note. "Today, YOU are the reason I teach."