The First Year

As the weather grew warmer, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel of the school year.  It had been a difficult year, but the learning curve had been high, and I was already gearing up for Year Two at FR Elementary.  I’d made great friends with several of the staff members, and we’d taken to going out together for drinks on Friday afternoons.  The job was still tough, but the people on staff that I liked were enough to give me the momentum to get through my days.  I’d even told two of my friends about openings at my school in the fall; one, a college friend named Laurie who’d taught with my at my urban teaching experience;  and Michele, my friend who’d been stood up at the altar last summer.

Of course, there were stories.  There was the time that DeShante’s mother picked her up from school and I’d shared with her that DeShante had misbehaved in class that day.  The woman took off her belt and started beating the poor girl with it right in front of me.  I’d had to call Protective Services that afternoon, and DeShante’s mother withdrew the girl not long after that.

There was Derrick, who had been one of my more challenging, yet promising students.  It had taken me at least two months before I’d been able to smile when I looked at him, because his behaviors were so tough.  But it wasn’t long afterwards that we started to see great things in each other.  One day, when I was absent, the substitute was having a particularly challenging time with him.  My friend Becky came across the hall at the ruckus and pulled Derrick outside to talk to him.  He said to her that he just couldn’t behave “for that white lady”.  Becky, amused, remarked that his regular teacher was white as well and that he behaved well for me.  He looked at her, stunned, and said, “Ms. S. is not white.  She’s nice.  She is black.”

There was the time when, on a teacher inservice afternoon, we were coached as to how to administer the standardized tests to our students.  We were instructed to look over the answers of the students that we suspected would have trouble, and if we spotted an incorrect answer, we were to ask them to “take another look at that one.”

There were many times when, being unable to use the one phone allotted to all forty staff members after school, that I’d driven to students’ homes to discuss the student behavior with the parents.  When I think of this now, a young white girl driving a little red car in very difficult neighborhoods, knocking on total strangers’ doors, I shudder.  But the home visits were a huge help in the behavior of some of my students, which is why I continued.

There was little DeAngelo, the sweetest faced six year old you’ve ever seen.  He was tinier than most of my students, but more than made up for it in anger and rage.  Now, at this school you didn’t send students to the principal’s office for misbehavior.  You dealt with it on your own, because there were much more important things for our administrators to do than to deal with kids who couldn’t keep their mouths closed or their hands to themselves.   So it was quite a big deal when I sent a student to the office requesting the assistant principal to come to my room because of DeAngelo’s misbehavior.  Shockingly, the AP showed up just as the little boy hauled off and kicked me, shouting at the top of his lungs, “I hate YOU and I hate THIS FUCKING SCHOOL!”   He was suspended, again, an unheard of consequence at FR Elementary.

It had been a hard year.  I’d spent hundreds of dollars of my own paycheck in my classroom.  I’d come in early and worked late.   I’d worked on weekends and weeknights and fallen into bed at 9:30 exhausted many times.   But I’d also grown up a lot; I’d learned how to manage not only money but a household myself.  I’d learned that I wasn’t a quitter.  I’d learned how to manage my jobs as a teacher and a mother and actually enjoy them.  But most importantly, I’d learned that despite loss, despite heartache and sadness, life goes on; that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, at some point you realize that you also have a smile on your face.


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