Friday, April 9, 2010


Sometimes, I think I must seem like a crazy person.

One day, I think my kids are funny, smart, and quirky. The next, I think that if I have to set foot in that building one more time, I might commit harakiri. Or, as I told Howard the other day, "I need you to go out in the hallway for a few minutes, or I might pull my head off." (It made us both giggle, even though I really thought I might pull my head off, and then we managed to make it through the moment.)

Yesterday and today are examples of this bizarre fluctuation. Yesterday was an immeasurably hard day. I felt beat up. I felt maligned. I felt so, so, so tired that I could barely stand. I felt a few twinges of resentment upon hearing, that evening, about teaching awards being bestowed upon Harvard professors. Yeah, I thought sarcastically. It's really hard to be a good teacher at Harvard. Boy, they really have to work hard over there. They get awards for sitting around on their side of the river and reading and thinking about education, while I'm over here on my side of the river in the trenches. (This, while my partner in crime spends all his days, in fact, reading and thinking about education on that side of the river... I really will get the Harvard chip off my shoulder, soon. I promise.)

Today, though, was conference day. No kids. (Which, obviously, makes it an easier day in some ways. No temper tantrums!) As I sat there, conference after conference, I thought about how much I like each kid. Are they quirky? Yes. Needy? Yes. But smart, funny, with personalities of their own? Absolutely.

And, this is the most amazing part. These kids, who often make me feel as if I spend my days herding cats instead of teaching, have learned. They've learned a lot. They are writing: pages. They are reading: chapters. They are subtracting: double digits. Not only that. They are inferring, synthesizing, and looking for evidence. Higher-level thinking, I tell you! Kids who started second grade unable to sound out the word "stick" are writing words like "dismayed," moaning when they have to stop science to go outside to play, and asking me sophisticated questions about the Civil Rights Movement.

A mom came in my room today and, when I started by asking, "What do you want to make sure we talk about today?" answered, "I want to talk about how much my son loves school."

"Really?" I answered dubiously. Is she talking about her other son? I wondered. Who could love coming to this classroom full of competing, overwhelming needs and a mean, cranky teacher?

Out loud, I said, "That is good to hear, because this has been a really challenging year for me, and I can't tell if the class feels good to the kids or not."

This time it was her turn to say, "Really?! He loves it here! He is so excited about what he's learning. He's thinking about conflict resolution, and how to solve problems. He knows more about Boston than I do. He's excited about this comic book he's writing, and the chapter book he's reading-- oh, and he loves insects!"

It was such a relief to hear. Apparently he doesn't go home and complain about his insane teacher. Apparently he doesn't go home and mention that they didn't learn all day because Ms. Swamp was bossing everyone around and no one was working. Apparently he doesn't think his class is dysfunctional. No, he loves it there.

"I know you say you're having a hard year," she said to me. "But it never looks like it when I come in here. You seem so calm. Everyone seems to be working and having fun."

But I go home and my back is all knotted up with tension, I want to tell her.

But I don't. I beam.

So many days, I work so hard, and feel like there's still so much work to do. Kids whine at me, or scowl, and forget to tell me which parts of the day they liked. I forget to tell them when they said something brilliant, or how in the middle of the night I woke up and thought of something they did and it made me smile. We all forget to appreciate each other in the toughness of the moment, in the struggle to co-exist.

Anyway, take that, Harvard. Awards for teaching -- pshaw. Today I got my reward.