Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Blurred out...
I looked at myself for the mirror meditation dressed for work--my hair tied back securely at the nape of my neck...my dress shapeless, floral, dark...clean make-up, briefcase on the desk just beyond my left shoulder. In my eyes, first avoidance--then submission. Yes, this is my face--masquerading as a professor.

An hour later, I'd cross a busy city street--my arms bowed beneath heavy papers--buses streaming their polluted silver clouds. In three inch heels--dodging potholes--my badge around my neck drawing attention from the students lounging all over the steps in filtered sunlight. Before I made it inside, a small pale-faced girl asked me how to get to the SouthEast building and I smiled, pointed behind her, and replied, "You're already there."

Kind of how I feel watching myself watch my reflection...there--printed into my skin--where I come from. Where I'm going--where I already am, now, writing this.

I stood my ground in the front of the classroom, awash as it was with day-students--younger than the night-owls I've grown used to over many semesters before. I know their habits and ways--these full-timers are a whole new species. Same classroom, whole new landscape.

Another instructor nodded as we passed one another in the stairwell.
"How are your children?" she called out in her thick London-accent and I marveled at the echo of her voice and asked her the same. Even on campus--miles away from their sweaty-fisted reaches, people remember I am a mother. I am identified in this way by the other mothers who are away from their children for however long to teach language, reading, and writing to a roomful of 18-23 year olds who squirm in their seats and stare blankly at the handouts we give them.

I think of Petunia's ravenous book consumption, of pre-literate Boy-o's hours lost in the glossy tomes on castles and knights he adores, and of Rosie's creative interpretations of her old favorite stories. My students write down, I hate reading and feel it is pointless in today's society...with two of the words misspelled. My high school teacher said I couldn't get books, so now I read People Magazine--does it count? Or, Don't know...whatever...or, SPACE LEFT BLANK.

The start of every semester is the same process of breaking through the tough veneer of these students who have been told they were inadequate in some way from day one. It is exhausting--their attitudes are fierce--they don't even look me in the eye. Tension hangs in the room, "I'm majoring in business--why do I have to be here?" Every semester, without fail...my "hardest" student comes up to me at the last minute of the last class and grabs my arm,
"You are the first teacher who believed in me...thank you, Ms. S, for everything," and I smile and am calmly grateful--then cry in the car the whole way home. This is what brings me back...in spite of the endless paperwork--the stress--the occasional drama.

MONDAY--I picked the kids up from my spunky sister's...came home and changed into jeans and a blue t-shirt. We ate dinner and then M. and I took two of them (Petunia and her Mom-Mom were blissfully lost in the back-to-school shopping maze) to the nearby park. We hiked through the trees and breathed in the freshly baled hay mixed with the last traces of honeysuckle and summer. I took a picture of myself in the soybean field and looked at it for a long time before bed. This is the self I know...even with my eyes closed.



Blogger deirdre said...

I can't help but feel sad when I hear people say they can't or don't like to read. The first thing I think is that someone wronged them in childhood. It must feel like a tremendous accomplishment when one of these people finds not only books, but a new belief in their own abilities.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

That is sad that those kids feel that way! I can't IMAGINE my life with out books and writing. No way. So I am happy if you can change that for some of them. That is a job that makes a difference, even with older "kids", teaching. I would love to teach some day.
I like your pictures.


7:13 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

i am so glad those kids have you as their teacher - what a treat for them... i'm sure when your book comes out they'll all be saying 'oh yes, Ms S, she was my teacher you know" :-)

and keep the pictures comin' - i'm loving them!

7:21 PM  
Blogger bb said...

'the self i know'

there is a whole universe so joyfully captured in these four short words.

good luck with the new semester!

(you know, if you ever wanted to email me i'd be delighted! i'm bbharnett@hotmail.co.uk)

pps the word veri has the word 'joy' as its prefix - serendipitous?!!

3:46 AM  
Blogger liz elayne said...

i love that image of a student reaching for you and thanking you for believing in them. this is why you do what you do. i need to share this with my husband so he remembers as he goes back to school as well.

and "the self i know." this resonates deep within me this evening. it sometimes feels like i lose that self every now and then. thank you for this reminder to look for her.

blessings to you,

9:22 PM  
Blogger Kim G. said...

Your words are like liquid protein, they energize me and motivate me to read, to write, to be. So glad you're blogging again and those students are fortunate to have a teacher like you. Blessings!

12:42 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

D.--I can see it, visibly "see" it when a student realizes there are books out there that can speak to them. Sometimes, we have to look harder to find them...but, it's SO worth it.
A.--I can't imagine my life without books and writing either!
S.--My students are incredibly supportive of my writing...they always ask me to read what I write during our in-class exercises. So sweet...
BB.--I am thinking a lot about "the self I know" right now, glad it resonated for you too!
LE.--I lose that self every day at least three times...the difference is, lately, I'm actually looking for her.
K.--Thank you for your kind words...it is nice to be "back"!

8:23 AM  

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