03 February 2007

More treasures from work

My relationship with my job is a funny thing. It has been my impression that many of the teachers at my school are very gifted, and they are passionate about what they do; they work hard and make sacrifices because they feel that they are called to work with middle school students in a tough area. They really like the kids and like working with them. For my part, I have been passionate about many things, and feel that I have a calling, but it really isn't to work with troubled adolescents in southeast Fresno. Nevertheless, that is what I do, and by all accounts, I'm pretty good at it. And I think some of my giftedness in that area comes from the fact that I don't really like the kids. I don't like kids in general, and these in particular are rude, ill-mannered, and often poorly groomed. Don't get me wrong: I love the children as God's creatures, and there a few of whom I am secretly very fond-- their antics keep me amused all day long. But I don't suffer from the illusion that I am buddy-buddy with the students, or that they want any sort of real relationship with me. I don't care if they hate me. So my combination of tough love and unconcern makes me a stern taskmistress and thoroughly unsympathetic, though actually very empathetic and concerned for their well-being (they just don't see it, being focused on the whine of the moment).
They say, "I hate you!" I reply, "Okay" and smile.
They cry, "You're mean!!" My answer is always a smile, accompanied by some comment such as, "It warms my small, shriveled heart to hear you say that".
They complain, "Transition sucks!" And I smile and say, "I'm so happy that you think so. It means I'm doing my job well."
Any comment from them about boredom, lack of supplies, or pretty much anything is met with, "I don't care" or "I don't need to hear it". Followed by reminders such as "Remember, it's your responsibility, not mine, to _____________" and "Make better choices, and you won't end up here again".

That's it, all day long: "Make better choices, Horacio!" "What kind of choices have you been making today, Jose?" "You need to focus on making good choices, Jakeerah."
Maybe, some day, it will sink into some student's head. I'm waiting for that day.

My students teach me a lot, too. Some of them, at 12 or 13, know more about life behind bars than I do, even after having watched many episodes of Law & Order. I learn plenty about drugs, gangs, and juvie, by sitting around and listening to them talk at lunchtime in the cafeteria. Sometimes they remember that I'm sitting there, and clam up, but other times, they just don't care, and plunge right ahead. I am finding out tidbits regarding which students are "bulldogs" and "scraps", who may be planning to fight after school, and whose family members allegedly sell drugs.

Interestingly, a few of my young people have made observations about my appearance. They all seem to focus on the fact that I am slender, though they utilize the less-flattering term "skinny".
"I'm going to eat my lunch so I don't grow up to be skinny like you."
"How come you're so skinny, Mrs. Felix?" [Oh, yes, and there is this one student who is, for some reason, convinced that my last name is Felix.]
I think it's odd, since I am slim-to-average, and not particularly thin at this point in my life. However, I try not to react too much to their remarks, choosing instead to instruct them in etiquette: "It's not polite to make comments about people's appearance. You should not talk about whether they are fat or skinny, because it may be a sensitive subject for them."
Ah, body image, the great equalizer.

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