Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cheers to my health

Of all the many blessings I take for granted on a daily basis, my health is definitely a list-topper. I'm in shape, I have the use of all my facilities, and I average a cold about once a year (knock on wood). Like Joni Mitchell , it takes losing my health to remind me how good I've had it.

I started off this week with a bang when a mere open blister on the bottom of my foot went from mildly irritating to debilitating pain in one school day. By the time I hobbled into my house at 3:30 P.M., an angry red streak was wrapping around the top of my foot and starting to snake up my shin. Having watched enough medical shows in my time (and harboring a functional case of hypochondria, I might add) I high-tailed it to the Emergency Room where once glance at my foot by the intake nurse was enough to let me bypass some other people in the waiting room. One more glance by the physician on duty confirmed I had cellulitis--or a skin infection. It was serious enough that I was warned if the infection continued to spread after being treated at the E.R., I would have to come back and be admitted overnight.

While I sat on the bed waiting for an IV of anbiotics and the excruciating draining of the wound, a couple things came to mind.

The first: This whole "being in the E.R." thing was really cramping my style.

Upending my original plans for the evening--making dinner, working out, and meeting up with someone--for a medical issue was a major bummer. That I couldn't go about life as usual, as I saw fit, seemed like a downright injustice. I was suddenly a heck of a lot more grateful about the 98% of my existence that runs at status quo.

The second, and what's really stuck with me this week: Miss T. can't be sick.

I envisioned, briefly, how things would have played out if my situation had been more dire and I had to be admitted immediately that night. My day's worth of emergency plans were out of date. I could contact Annie and relay her my plans, but having her or my aides collect the materials would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. The best a substitute could do was attempt to keep the students busy with educational games or busy work, and that would probably only hold the fort down for the first ten minutes. Realistically, my absence for one or two days would not spell out doom for my classroom, but just imagining the inevitable unruliness that comes with lack of structure and my inability to control it, made me shudder.

Now, I'm well aware of my own neurosis regarding control, but I also know that the control gene is engrained in the greater half of every teacher who's lived. Teachers have historically been addressed as Master for a reason. Even the worst of them have some sort of command over their students, solely based on the fact they dictate kids' lives for 7 hours a day, 9 months out of the year. Couple this with a teacher's knowledge of every procedure, every rule, every lesson, every in and out of the classroom, and you've got somebody who's pretty hard to replace at a moment's notice.

If an educator has any sense of duty and responsibility, she's going to cringe at the thought of abandoning her post. I've seen countless coworkers dragging their feet down the hall a few shades paler than usual, eyes glazed over, coughing up a lung. Despite the urging of their colleagues to go home and and get some rest, they plow forward, determined to get to the end of the day in the name of finishing up the unit on verbs, or helping a failing student at lunch. They can't live with the thought of throwing in the towel, even if they're halfway dead. On the occasional days they face facts and surrender, it's not uncommon to see them crawling in at the beginning or end of the day, half dressed, to get affairs in order. Sometimes I think it would take detaching a teacher's head from her body (or perhaps a gangrene foot?) to stop her from coming in.

Sounds like a sickness all in its own, no? Ah, well. Right now I'm just thankful that I dodged a bullet and am on my way to another week of perfect attendance.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The legacy (or lack thereof) of a special education teacher...

Recently I walked past two of my delightful former 7th grade English students working at a table in the hall--one of them being Ryan of "Eggs benedict" fame.

I smiled and waved as I walked by, and though I wouldn't have been hurt or put it past Ryan to simply ignore me, he visibly perked up and tapped the other former classmate on the shoulder to point me out.

"Hey. There's...uhh...uhhh...uhhhh...."

Most teachers are familiar with the warm, fuzzy quote by Henry Brooks Adams: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."

I think I just found out where my influence stopped.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Honor thy (students') mother and father

Parents are not the enemy. Parents are not the enemy. Parents are not the enemy.
This is the mantra on which I've been meditating lately. Nestling nicely into my fifth year of teaching, I've learned enough of the ropes to start fine tuning my practice. Now that I've got my ducks in a row, the confidence has come to open up my classroom and really start collaborating with the educational community. (Bring it on, administrator observation and evaluation!)

I've always said that my job would be great were it only the kids and I never had to come into contact with their parents. Yeah, it seems like a pretty cynical statement to make. But, to be fair, the population of kids I work with bring a whole different caliber of parents. When it comes to behavior and emotional disorders, popular psychology suggests that a large portion stem at least partially from nurturing and environment, and after interacting closely with dozens of students and their parents, the old adage, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" has pretty much become part of my educational philosophy.

But a relatively small percentage of negative experiences with guardians over the last 5 years has caused me to unfairly assume the worst about the whole bunch. The mere sight of the light blinking on my phone, or an e-mail message in my inbox makes my claws come out. And Lord forbid mom and dad feel their child is not getting the support he needs and want me to do something about it. Though I aim to please and always respond and act democratically, there is always this voice in the back of my mind screaming, "Listen, I had four-plus years of higher learning in education! You do your job and I'll do mine!"

The fact of the matter is, I'm a governmental employee and a public servant and my obligations go far beyond my snug, crazy little classroom. Furthermore, as much as I'd love to adopt some of these kids and give them the proper nurture to reverse the damages done, they belong to their parents. I'm not a parent myself, so I acknowledge I can't entirely resonate with the desire to protect and promote a child's happiness at any length. Maturity and experience is teaching me that 99.5% of the time, Mr. and Mrs. Smith aren't on a personal vendetta, aiming to destroy me; more likely, they are so completeld consumed in personal matters (such as caring for their exceptional child) they barely devote two minutes of their day to evaluating my work.

Carving out a space in my classroom and heart for parents is definitely a work in progress on an exceptionally difficult road. In four weeks, my co-workers will be showered with $50 Starbucks giftcards and cute coffee mugs for Christmas. I will be lucky if I hear the words, "Thank you for all you do" by the end of the school year. If my aim is to please in order to receive love and adoration in return, then I'm going to be sorely disappointed with the outcome.

If my aim is to serve and do what is right and just, then I know a reward awaits me. It just probably won't be in the form of 10 free venti lattes.

Your assignment:

Who are your unavoidable "enemies" in the workplace? The boss? The cubicle buddy? Do your darndest to view them through a new pair of glasses. In the name of your job, in the name of saving yourself a tension headache, in the name of (gasp) love. What's the worst that can happen when you cut them a little slack? No, really, I'd like to know what's the worst that happens. Report back here!