For Regular People

vermere-495_Yellow Glo_1261074361_Z.jpgOnly once did I sit on the floor of the bathroom and cry, and I locked the door to do it, so I could really let it go, and I felt a lot better afterward.  When I wanted to run from the classroom, I stood my ground and didn’t remember to take deep breaths or look at my picture of FDR or think about Jesus.  I opened the door and stood in front of it, in case anyone wanted to run out (in addition to me).

I didn’t run out, not even at the end of the day, I stayed and calmly did my attendance and wiped off the desks.

I would say last week was my hardest week of teaching ever, but then, there was the week the kids got shot, my very first week of teaching, so many others, it’s like they say about labor, that you don’t remember how hard it is.

My last class on Friday: instead of screaming and throwing many things and pounding on their desks a lot, they had screamed and thrown only a few things and pounded on their desks a little.  About half of them had sort of done half of the assignment.  “That was better, right?” I said to the person who works with me in that class, frankly I don’t even remember if she is an aide or a SpEd teacher or what, it doesn’t matter, and she said, “Yeah.  It was.  Have a great weekend.”

I really felt like a rock star at the end of Friday.  I was like, what have I done?  I had a drink in a beautiful bar and thought about how I had amazed myself.

One of my colleagues who has been at the school for more than a decade, I was going out to get coffee, and I said, “I’m just going to get coffee.  I’ll be back.  I feel like everyone is paranoid I’m going to leave.”

“I know you’ll be back,” he said.

I went up to the boys’ basketball game after making a million copies on the ancient and slow copier.  The tray is missing, so when you make copies that have staples, they all fall on the ground or into a box you put there hoping it would catch them so you don’t have to untangle them all, but I can’t get the angle right, so they are a mess, 120 copies of Classwork and Exit Tickets.

There were like five people who were not black in the gym, including me, which reminded me of being at my old old school, and that made me feel tender.  I was glad to be somewhere the kids could be screaming and running and not have to tell them to stop.  A guy in the front row of bleachers jumped up at one point and screamed crazy to a kid.  The guy sitting next to me was perfectly quiet, occasionally standing up so he could see the other end of the court.  Some people freak out on the outside; some people freak out on the inside.

“Do you teach here?” he said.


“What do you teach?”


“Oh.  Do you like that?”

“Usually.  What brings you here?”

“I’m for the Eagles.  My nephew.”

“Oh.  I’ll try not to get into it with you.”

I didn’t exactly have a headache, I just could feel where I was going to have a headache, behind my right eye, very, very soon.

The game got pretty exciting, the Eagles came back, but the final score was that we won by two.  I was enjoying the game very much until I realized there was still another quarter to go, then I was pretty ready for it to end.

“Do we always kick everyone’s ass like this?” I asked my student, who was sitting in front of me.

“I don’t know.  We lost last time.”  She’s a freshman.  She doesn’t know.  I used to go to basketball and football games when I was a freshman.  I didn’t know what else to do.  My friends didn’t either.  We couldn’t drive.  It was before I began my career as an artist cool kid who was above it all.  When I went to a mixer after the basketball game and hoped and hoped to dance with a boy.

The gym was tiny, that is, I looked in the window in the door and waited till the game went to the other end of the court before I could go in.  The walls are yellowish tile.

I always think of how athletes are so in their bodies and how the emotions of being ahead or behind affect them.

“You should just quit,” a few of them said a few times.

“We’ve already gotten rid of four teachers,” a few of them said a few times.

That isn’t true, but that is what they think happened.


“Do you like us?  Do you like it here?” one of them said.

“Yes,” I said.

“But we’re so bad.”

“Well, you are driving me crazy, but I do like you.”

I promised my best class this week would get cookies that I baked for them.  I was way too tired to actually make cookies, so I got the cookies in a tube.  I don’t consider those good enough to eat myself.  I baked them, though, and I cursed while I was doing it, I didn’t do it in any spirit of generosity.

But that didn’t matter.  Competition for my best class was not at all heated, I chose one of the two least crazy groups, and I handed them each a cookie, and some of them said thank you, and one of them said, “These are overcooked.”  The important thing was that I said I would bring cookies, and I brought fucking cookies.  Whatever.

I have a kid who has the bright light of fixing everything in his eyes, who says my name like I’m going to save him.  I have two kids who are recent immigrants, whose parents will still be overseas “for a few months,” and they want to be doctors.  I have quite a few kids who cannot sit down for more than five minutes, a few kids who just come in and put their heads down for the whole hour.  Every single one of them was enchanted by Baz Luhrmann’s cars and explosions at the beginning of Romeo & Juliet.  Further into the movie, no one would shut up to listen, but at least we had that moment of enchantment.

Without that, all might be lost.

“Can we watch the gun part again?” they said.

“No,” I said.

One week and in every group I have a kid or two I trust to do the attendance for me.

I believe one thousand percent that Shakespeare would have that many explosions and car chases if such spectacle had been available to him.  And I love to say, “Shakespeare wrote for regular people, not people who had been to college.”  I think that’s important to say over and over and over.

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