This morning, as soon as our nanny arrived to take Hudson, I made my Friday march down to my basement office, wadded up a hoodie for a pillow, and decided to sleep on the floor.x No, I wasn’t booting up my computer and reviewing my incoming emails, but I felt like, through the absence of actual work, my proximity to work might be enough. Maeby, who is unaccustomed to me being quite so literally on her level, responded gamely—gamely in the sense that she flopped right beside me so her whiskers could twitch against my cheeks while we both tried to rest.
This will come as a surprise to no one: I am white. Though that’s never been a surprise to me, I have never been so aware of my whiteness as I am while living on the outskirts of Harlem. I confront my whiteness every day.
I try to be conscientious and introspective about my identity. I want to acknowledge my whiteness, and in so doing, I must acknowledge my privilege. I do not feel defensive about my privilege. Acknowledging my privilege doesn’t mean that I was lazy, and it doesn’t mean that I didn’t work hard, and it doesn’t mean that I haven’t earned my spot at Columbia. It simply means that I was in a system that was engineered for people like me to thrive. Perhaps most importantly right now, it means that I can walk basically anywhere in the United States and not fear that I will be accused of a crime. It’s ok to acknowledge those things. It doesn’t hurt me to acknowledge that these privileges exist.
What hurts is that these privileges don’t exist for everyone.
Yesterday Jeremy and I were sitting on our couch and facing the door to our apartment, and it occurred to me just how much of our life was currently represented by the debris in our entryway. Since yesterday, even more life has happened, making our entry way admittedly messy, but authentically so. Did I want to clean before photographing? Desperately! But that would have negated the time spent (or lack of time spent) flinging our coats off and casting off our boots because our radiator is hyperactive. It would have fed into the social media perfection machine. To clean would be to edit, to cover up the life that hides in the small moments. And my title promises that this is unfiltered, and it’s not clean either.
Utah Valley experiences something called “Inversion.” It has something to do with the Great Salt Lake and pollution. Scientifically, I can’t explain it to you, but imageistically, it looks like you are peering into the distance with a pair of glasses covered in soot. Inversion feels like crunching six or seven flecks of sand between your teeth. Inversion is like bugs on a windshield hiding a really great view.
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.
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.
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.
This was me on my first day of teaching High School. Spare the jokes please. I know I look like I should be a high school student myself.
You’ve never been less important to me. Did you know I have a million other priorities? Did you know that I feel guilty for even clicking into blogger at times like these?
Did you know that my exhaustion has never been so completely thorough?
Did you know that I feel like every ounce of extroversion I have ever felt has been sucked from me as though I have been strapped up to “The Machine” in The Princess Bride?
Did you know that there are students that aren’t very nice? Did you know that there are some students who argue with teachers? Did you know that students don’t believe that reading is important or even relevant to them?
I have a suspicion that you did know these things, Blog. You sat with your wry smile thinking about my silly optimism, knowing I’d fall of the grid, knowing that teaching would consume me, knowing that there was a cruel world out there that I was refusing to see.
But guess what, blog? I bet you didn’t know about Thompson* (name changed), who stayed after class too tell me that he was a mute, and only talked to nice people, but felt like he could talk to me because I was a nice person?
I bet you didn’t know about Marissa* with her piercings and her teeth decals and her earnest desire to succeed at English, even though it was her second language.
I bet you didn’t know about Brad*, who told me I was a good teacher at my deepest moment of secret need.
To the Thomspons and the Marissas and the Brads out there, you are the reasons I teach this week. Thank you.
I’m a sharer. When I say that, I don’t mean like, “Hey, here’s a bite of my sandwich;” more like, I tend to share personal details a little too readily with an slight dose of hyperbole. I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. My sister’s blog is titled, “And Then Some” for Heaven’s sake.