the circular runner

my heart is hardening, a step by step guide to burn-out….

In life, observations, teaching & education, Uncategorized on August 6, 2012 at 4:00 am

 

So here’s the scene and it’s not a pretty one.  I’m teaching a student the other night–a student who is schizophrenic, obese, homeless, and reeking of pot.  Though I would only use the word, loser, on myself. N. would probably make very few winner’s lists.  None of this matters to me.  My GED class is typically made up of students who vary widely, personally and academically.  N. is a special challenge.  I think her parents were or are profs. at Yale.  She is probably a genius; she can do Algebra and I bet she has an instinct for geometry, but she has these weird blocks when it comes to long division and fractions.  She gets how to do them, but she gets lost.  Partly, it’s the pot that she’s using to self-medicate herself with.  Partly, it’s the problem in her brain that makes her want to self-medicate.  I’m a pragmatist when it comes to teaching.  N. is an adult, and if she wants/needs to get high, I’m not going to scold her.  I usually just suggest that she “treat” herself after class.  She usually listens.

Like a lot of my students, attendance is not always consistent.  Again, I try to be pragmatic or am I being defeatist?  I wonder this when I encourage that at least they come once a week, or if not that, that they text me.  Usually, I find this works.  Make someone do something and rebellion is always the option.  Empower students by reminding them that they are adults and they always have a choice, and they usually come around.  Usually.

Now, do you sense it?  I’m putting it off. The description of my ugliness.  It’d been a couple weeks since N. had come to class.  No text.  Nothing.  And when she walked in, her voice way too loud for the small room, she asks if there are any snacks.  It’s not a bad question.  I usually do have snacks, but at that moment, I was annoyed by her.  I took it as another sign that this person is just not serious.  Maybe my face showed the disgust I was feeling, though I hope it didn’t.

N. eventually sits down and we begin, but not before I lay into her about her attendance and her not contacting me.  I tell her that especially with math, consistency is everything.  And then I tell her that she needs to reach out if she doesn’t show because I can’t keep teaching her the same thing.

Now, this isn’t really that ugly.  I’m saying something I’ve said to a lot of other students, but I know I’m being a little edgier than usual with N. because I’m annoyed–not with her, but with the job.  Earlier in the day, I had to deal with a young woman who is dyslexic and functionally illiterate; I had to eal with her mother, who yells at her daughter and distracts her when she’s trying to learn.  I had to deal with a co-worker who is half-angel and half-out-of-control raging asshole.  All of that’s ugliness, I think.  But with N. I try to focus on the fractions in front of us.  I try not to look at the clock, but everything in the room seems like it’s going too slow–N.’s mind, my empathy.  I want speed, though I don’t know where I’d go.

I’m thankful/saddened that at some point in the session, I see N.’s hands.  They are shaking.  She’s not doing well–worse than usual.  She’s hungry and she needs a cigarette.  So we stop math and she gives me her eating schedule, which is tied to food kitchens in town and Temple (she’s Jewish and goes to services for her soul and for the food.)

I’d like to say that this brought me back to a better place–that our talk made me realize I was being an ass, but the truth is that after I got her something to eat and a cheap (relatively speaking) pack of smokes, I got out of there.  To get home, I walk up a hill, and there was a part of me that felt like I was ascending a pit of despair and sadness.  Behind me was the hood; in front of me was my humble middle-class flat and my wife and baby boy.

Who am I to condescend to the people I try and teach or to their neighborhood?  I don’t know.  But for the first time since I started this job four years ago, I didn’t want to go back down the hill.  I wanted to stay in my flat and let the craziness and shit flow downhill.

I have no conclusion for this.  So, I’ll leave it at that.  Tomorrow’s another day.  Good night.

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  1. I don’t think your heart is hardened it just gets heavy at times.. take a step back and trade places (mentally) with N.. No matter her world, she still got to class..
    I understand how you feel..I have to let the world go sometimes,, it all gets too heavy, then I am re-energized and step back in the race..You are a good teacher I think!!

  2. It must be difficult to teach kids who don’t seem to care or have the desire to pull themselves out of a bad situation. It seems very sad to me and I can understand how the urge strikes to not want to “go back down the hill.” Hang in there. I can tell that you are a very good teacher who is trying hard to make a difference for your students.

    • You are kind. I try to be a decent teacher, but it’s a sign that I might need to get out sooner than later. I don’t know why, but when it comes to jobs, I’m a little shark-like. I need to move or I die.

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