I’m up late tonight because I slept all day today, but my thoughts have my head spinning, and it’s not just the summer flu I’ve managed to pick up. I’ve been teaching – yes, teaching – for a week now.
Over the past week, I think my biggest accomplishment is getting through to some of my students on a personal level. I don’t entertain any illusions that I’ve reached out to each and every one of them, but I can already see some students start to trust me, which is on one level heartbreaking because I’m leaving them in three more weeks and have so much to do in order to make a positive impact on their lives in such little time. On another level, it is very encouraging, since it shows that at least some of what I am doing is making sense. What disturbs me is that the other day I got this crazy idea that perhaps my students are paid actors hired to really work up a scare in us before we go into our regions, perhaps because of how short of a time 4 weeks is to develop a relationship and a clear investment in their lives and how I feel just “thrown” into this situation with them. Nothing could be further from the truth! These are real kids, as real as it gets, and I am starting to feel a sense of acute urgency to make sure that not one of them slips through the cracks. There’s one kid who stopped showing up after Tuesday, and I feel so guilty, even though I don’t know if I could have known or done anything about that. Perhaps if I had called parents sooner, perhaps if I had been more encouraging of individual students from the outset, perhaps if I had continued our conversation about The Beatles instead of moving on in the lesson and telling him to fill out his exit ticket. I feel the same inclination that Holden Caulfield gets in The Catcher in the Rye, when he wants to stand by a group of children playing by the edge of a cliff, if only to be able to catch them if they fall. The urgency weighs heavily, and I worry that if I can’t shape things up next week, I will start to see more empty desks, and those will indeed be my fault.
Institute has been a huge challenge so far. It has tested me beyond what I predicted but not beyond what I can handle. The challenges I have faced are already encouraging me to be more brave in the face of challenges, and not just directly on the job. As I continue reading Teaching to Transgress, I’ve realized that to be a good teacher and give 200% to my students, I need to continue to be attentive and conscious of owning my own practice and life. The move away from everyone I know, the super challenging job, the importance of certain relationships and friendships that I am working my hardest to maintain, and now the moral weight that I am faced with on a daily basis has challenged me to see things in ways that I haven’t before, and I feel like I am leaning towards making a particular decision that I’ve been holding off for several years now that will help me take more control and ownership of who I am and what I do. It is not a decision or life step one generally takes lightly, and it’s going to take a long time to work through, but I think since I’ve arrived at Institute, seeking a liberation-oriented educational experience for my students has challenged me to confront and face barriers to my own liberation. I want to thank my friend Michael Lipkowitz, who is also becoming an educator with Blue Engine in New York, for a small but super meaningful piece of advice a little over a month ago. The pep talk he gave me planted the seed for what I am realizing now, and I can’t help but think it comes from his own experience as a teacher. I am lucky to be in such good company.
I feel like reading Tolstoy right now, at 5AM as I type this in a rather mad, disheveled state. I feel like reading Tolstoy and other crucial writers who I keep feeling this huge yearning to read, and working through the night to produce a radical vision of transformation for my kids and myself that exceeds the type of reflection that can be conveyed in the pre-formated Word Documents we get here at Institute to write our visions in. I probably won’t have time to do that in a while, but I feel like I could learn a lot from that type of process. I guess one of the things I would change about Institute is less sessions on classroom management, and more time to read Tolstoy, Ferrer, Proust, hooks, and others who I have kept thinking of as I do this work, and I guess we can’t really fit in everything, but I really think that’s how I learn. I just wish we were encouraged to think more in these terms, but it looks like I’ll have to do that on my own time.