Remember just a week ago when I wrote about wordy wedding foibles after officiating my cousin’s wedding? Well, TODAY you get to hear from none other than the bride herself! So, Friends, meet Kaitlin – Kaitlin meet Friends. Because all I can say is ENJOY.
I am a high school English teacher. There. I’ve said it. I feel that sense of confession sometimes when I am at some social gathering or another, and inevitably someone utters those five words- the ones we adults use to categorize and define each other: “So, what do you do?” I love to watch peoples’ faces when I answer their question. What is it I see there? Is that amusement? Shock? Dare I say it, pity?
I fully recognize that there is a reason why people react the way they do to the idea that I willingly spend my days with those humans whom society has deemed moody, full of angst, too plugged-in, or simply uninterested in what I have to say. There is truth in this, and as roughly 50% of the new teacher population tends to do, I found myself seriously questioning my career choice. Oh God. I spent so much money to get a degree that I’m about to walk away from. How could I possibly continue in a job where I fight the same battles daily? I found that I had no patience for excuses or explanations.
Seriously? How hard is it to bring a pencil to class? I am not Office Depot.
Hey you. I’m loving that eye-roll.
Did we do anything important when you were gone for a week? Nope. We just waited for you.
Remember that time I asked you to get out paper and you told me to “Fuck off”? That felt awesome.
Even writing this, I can hear how jaded it sounds, and believe me, I haven’t been in the profession long enough to be jaded. I found myself battling the urge to call in “sick,” and the melody to “Everybody’s Workin’ for the Weekend” was my constant companion. And so, the million dollar question: Why do I still do it? The answer comes down to one small voice, and a conversation held in the darkness.
Every year I go to a weekend-long camp with a group of dedicated teachers. We hand pick our campers based on specific criteria: Are they leaders? Are they from various cliques and groups on campus? Do they appear to be struggling in some way? If you’re thinking “The Breakfast Club,” you’re on the right track. We take them to the safe quiet of the redwoods. We feed them, play with them, and ask them to get real about things no one seems to want them to talk about: Racism. Sexism. Gender. Family. Violence. Inevitably, they open up, and we see, as we knew we would, that they are broken. These kids are the ones who stand in a crowded room, screaming, and no one seems to hear them. At camp, however, they find their voice.
One night, after emotional activities and revelations about the fear that we tend to perpetuate amongst each other, the kids were feeling raw and fragile. They had seen some of their classmates, the very ones whom they would mock at school, open up about their own experiences of trauma and pain. At bedtime, I led my girls back to Cabin 4. As they put on PJs, and brushed teeth and hair, the cabin was quiet; the air was heavy with things unsaid. I flipped though the “So you Want to be a Camp Counselor” pamphlet, but there was nothing in there to guide me through facilitating and supporting this moment. So, I did all I could think to do. One by one, I tucked each of them in. Snug as a bug in a rug. I turned out the light and climbed in my sleeping bag. I offered up to the night, “Would anyone like to comment on what you learned?” Nothing. “Did anyone want to share how they’re feeling?” More silence. And then…
…one small voice came from out of the darkness.
I knew the girl who owned that voice. She was funny. She was strong. I even joked with her that she was the embodiment of sassafras. I won’t tell you her story. I won’t detail her pain here. I won’t chronicle the horrors she faced in her life. I will, however, say praise-be for the Northface sleeping bag that muffled my sobs that night. I was supposed to be the strong one. The adult! I was supposed to be annoyed at the lack of care shown by these kids, right? Instead, I wept. And I mourned the loss of her childhood. And I realized that I had been completely and utterly blind.
This small moment entirely changed the way I do things in my classroom. Who can focus on appositive noun phrases when in four hours they’re going home to a monster? Who cares what Atticus Finch said when they haven’t eaten anything today? I had heard it before: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” But it took one small voice in the darkness to bring home the point. This is why I teach- because every kid deserves to have someone empathize, or sympathize, or simply offer up a high-five. It might be all I can give them, but it also might be the one thing that gets them through that day’s battle.
And what about everyone else? The guy on the bus who stares only at his feet, his mind on a sick family member. The woman in the store who carries two screaming children and the burden of single motherhood. We all fight the battle in some form. Perhaps if we stop long enough to listen to those small voices, the ones that come from out of the darkness, or from the most unlikely of sources, we will stand a much better change of actually hearing one another.
Kaitlin lives in the bay area with her brewer husband Ken, and her malodorous cat, Roscoe. When she’s not grading papers, she loves hunting down good craft beer, singing Sunday hymns, and being a nerdy book-worm. Ugh. Are you as in love with my cousin as I am? Thank you, Kaitlin, for sharing your words, your heart, your life. DO encourage her by leaving a comment today!