29 April 2008

Pushing back the walls of ignorance

Lately I've been trying to write here about things besides V, though I know she is why many of you come here. It just helps me to remember that I'm not just a mama. Which is not to minimize mamahood, mind you...

Anyway, I haven't talked much about work here, mainly because 1. I'm not yet tenured (June! Hopefully!) and 2. I have an irrational fear of getting dooced, so named for Heather Armstrong of Dooce (you should totally click on her link, because right now she's got a video of Prince covering Radiohead, and that is worth clicking, if you ask me). It's funny, really, because I have nothing negative to say about this job 99.99% of the time. I love teaching, love my students, love my colleagues, love our administration. But lately, things have become excruciatingly difficult. Teaching, colleages, administration is all good. Which leaves, of course, students. Student, really...anyway, this is the hardest thing I've encountered in ten years of teaching. Ten years! Think of how many students....a thousand?

In light of the excruciatingness of all this, I thought I'd post this poem I wrote a few years ago about why I teach. I wrote it as an example for students who were writing a "this is the way" poem and didn't understand how to do it. As such, it still reads like a creative writing exercise, but I'm comfortable with that. Today, I need to remember why I do this job.

And this is the way you worry about your lisp and enunciate to correct it; and this is the way you think hard before getting a visible tattoo; and this is the way you stay awake at night wondering if they’re learning and trying to finish your grading and thinking up new assignments; and this is the way they don’t know how to spell; and this is the way they lie to your face and you have to hear the truth somewhere inside; and this is the way you learned how to tell the difference between morning sickness and a hangover; and this is the way you teach birth control and prenatal care even though it’s a writing class; and this is the way you ask the girl with the finger-mark bruises on both arms who did this to her and she stares at you blankly and says “Did what?”; and this is the way you see their hurt and wish you could take it away; and this is the way you mourn students who’ve died of meningitis or in a car accident or who hung themselves in their dorm room; and this is the way you care about students beyond what you ever expected; and this is the way they see the world completely differently from you; and this is the way they make you feel alive and this the way you want them all to be healthy and joyful and kind; and this is the way your friends have jobs they leave behind on the weekend and you don’t; and this is the way they race around your brain and make your head and arms and heart ache all day long; and this is the way you push them to think for themselves, and this is the way your tires get slashed, and someone threatens to blow your head off with a shotgun; and this is the way you keep your phone number unlisted and try not to love them too much; and this is the way you hold them too close sometimes; and this is the way you need summers off; and this is the way they show up in your dreams almost every night; and this is the way, in the end, that you teach.


Sam Kaiser said...

Uh... not to make everything about me, but where the hell is the line about going to the casino?

Megan said...

Your poem should have this additional line:

and this is the way they let you know you're doing a great job;

Jennifer said...

Those two comments totally sum up my students: Sam, for whom everything is either about him or casinos or both, and Megan, who is very sweet.

They're both brilliant, too, by the way, and I only take a little credit for that.

Thanks, guys.

Megan said...

Ooh...brilliant - Yippee! And that from an instructor, no less!

Hang on, I gotta write home to Mom.