It must be acknowledged: Sometimes teaching sucks. Sometimes the amount of your paycheck represents only 1/10 of your ink, sweat, and tears. Sometimes students are mean, and sometimes they are manipulative. Sometimes (all the time) you work through lunch and sometimes (too many times) the students never seem to learn. Sometimes teaching sucks.
(Yes, I do need to cool it with the anaphora. Find a new literary device, Penrod, sheesh).
To be frank, most teachers have that period of the day that doesn’t jive like the others. That class period of hell filled with (individually lovely but compositely grumpy) students that simply refuse to think that what you are teaching them is worth anything. That hour of the day that not only reminds you that sometimes teaching sucks, but ensures that it does.
And then there are Michael Rudins* that wash away the sins of “Nth Period” in one fell swoop. In one fell binder full of ink and sweat.
I try not to write about individual students very often. I do this for a couple of reasons.
- Students’ personal lives are their own, and I imagine there would be a reasonable amount of horror were they to know that a teacher blogged about them.
- By picking one student to write about, I worry that sometimes it invalidates the beautiful experiences, kindness, and worthiness of all of my other tremendous students, many of whom slipped by expressive, kind, affirming Thank You Notes my way on this their last day of high school.
But today, I simply must. I must write about Michael Rudin. He is a metaphor for all the other many wonderful students that have made this year worth it.
He is shy. I do not identify with shyness. I am not shy. But for some reason, I love my shy students. It’s perhaps an unfair generalization, but I am fascinated by their untapped depths.
Michael Rudin is shy, but not quiet. Throughout the year, whenever I called on him, he always surprised me with ready, boldly stated, poetically worded responses.
I was briefly out of the classroom today when a ragged binder and a Dr. Pepper appeared on my desk. As I thumbed through the pages (some pages earmarked) of my desk’s new arrival, I found “Youthful Thoughts: the Complete Works of Michael Rudin.” A binder full of poetry and short stories, of secret, untapped depths collected over the years.
I won’t embarrass the student by posting my favorite poem, “English Class,” in its entirety (even though it’s insightful and perfect and made me cry), though I will include the charming refrain: “In Penrod’s class is a chance to learn.” I won’t detail the joi de vivre I experienced as I thumbed through each of his earmarked pages. I won’t belabor the pride I feel for this student (and all of my students’) ability to feel the world.
But I will share this one tenderest of moments of my own experience with Youthful Thoughts. Michael Rudin had about 50 poems, and had earmarked about 20 of them for my perusal. And then, I came across this:
To you, this is nothing. An unbent earmark. Big deal.
To me, this is Michael Rudin carefully sifting through his poems, deliberating, deciding, and changing his mind. This is Michael Rudin, in a quiet, pensive moment, unsure whether or not this poem was a good enough representation of himself. This is Michael Rudin folding and then unfolding an earmark. This to me, is a moment of tenderness, of attention to detail. This is a moment of care.
I am not sure why I am so taken by this unearmarked corner, but the corner itself is poetry to me. Because it speaks.
I hope forever these students, not my students anymore, but these continuing students continue to speak boldly, quietly, articulately, and joyfully.
I am reminded everyday why I continue to teach.