Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Match

The last day of the semester kids crowd into the learning center, its packed with students who would rather spend time with us then with their regular teacher. My aide Mr. C asks one of the students to help him clean the room. Edwin.

Edwin tells him no. I look up, irked. We found 5 of Edwin's sweatshirts beneath my parrot costume in the closet, which means they were lying there before Halloween. His clutter is everywhere, papers, folders, half drawn art work. "Alright Edwin," I announce, "but if Mr. C finds any of your things, you can't stay."

Thirty seconds later Mr. C pulls out a stack of papers with Edwin's name on it.

"Alright Edwin, go to your regular class."

"What, but why?"

"Because you refused to help Mr. C clean up your own mess. Go."

Edwin storms out the room, one of the other teachers, Garcia, is irriated. "Why did you do that? I swear I'll never understand why you don't like Edwin. Must be two alpha males."

A match sparks.

More kids crowd in, I've promised one of them all semester we'd play a game of Risk! I tell him to get out the game while I write I want everyone to type a one page paper on what they learned this semester."

The kids groan.

Beneath my prompt I write "Just kidding."

They cheer. "Everyone can sit and talk quietly. It's the last day of school and grades were due at 7:30 this morning."

A half dozen students cluster around me as I assist them by setting up the board game Risk! It's a minimum day, we're out by 12:11, and the deadline for grades was 7 this morning.

"Hey Leiken," Mr. C asks, "Arturo needs help with his paper." I I instruct Jeff to help him as Arturo fires up the computer. I'm not in the mood to help anyone today, grades are in, the deadline has passed.

The match sparks again.

"He really needs your help Mr. Leiken. Jordan is letting him turn in his paper for a higher grade if he makes corrections."

The match flares. "Grades were due this morning! Why is his paper not finished yet?"

The two other teachers in the learning center look up. Garcia tries to interject, says something about Jordan letting kids make corrections for a higher grade. It infuriates me further.

"Today is the last day of the semester! The deadline for grades was this morning! I'm glad that deadlines don't mean anything anymore! I know, why don't we just pay our rent and our taxes when we feel like it? How many days did you miss this semester Arturo?"

Arturo lowers his head.

"Seventeen. That's almost four weeks, a whole month of school! How much did I help you with that paper?"

"A lot." Arturo says quietly.

Rages burns through me like a wave of flame, I know I'm irrationally angry, but I can't help myself. The rage pours out my throat like a fountain of molten lava, it scalds students as I berate them for not being prepared, for not taking school seriously, for taking their teachers for granted. The anger is a living genie of fire which consumes me, I know I've crossed the line as I look over at Garcia and Gaitan and they stare at me with eyes that have widened into white moons.

It feels good.

It feels great.

I love being angry, bask in the startled silence of students too afraid to move as their eyes dart to the floor. I feel like I could put my fist through a door while the endorphins surge through my body, it's addictive, all consuming.

It's wrong.

Mr. C is shocked. He turns and helps Arturo. I turn my attention back to the game.

At the end of class I hold Arturo and apologize, explain my anger was not really directed at him.

Where has this rage come from, what lit the match?

Was it the fact that Arturo needed extra help, and I wanted a day to relax with my students?
No. Normally I'd help him without a second thought.

Was it because I was angry at the school for having messed up next semesters schedules, and I'm not looking forward to having to spend rounds with the counselors and principals trying to correct it?
Closer. Messed up schedules is irritating, but still not the heart of the rage.

Is it because a new semester is starting up on Monday and I need to get my boxing gloves on to deal with an entirely new set of kids, and like an ultimate fighting champion, I'm psyching myself up for the new class?
Plausible, but no, it's something else that lit the match.

Is it because I'm angry at Edwin and my rage is not only inappopriate, but displaced?
Close, very close, but Edwin is more of a minor irritation. He's never made me that angry.

Is it because I'm having PMS?
Men don't PMS.

Is it that I'm upset with Garcia for allowing her students to take advantage of her sweet nature? It is irritating, but no, I don't believe my outburst was a show for her benefit.

Or is it because I'm burning out, I'm tired - am I really helping anyone, or am I just further enabling them by reinforcing their learned helplessness.

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

Two hours later I will go 10 rounds with the school counselor and assistant principal of special ed, I will attempt to rationalize, plead, beg, anything to get the kids switched to what serves them best. They shake their heads, no, no, no. The schedule is set up so the students can take all their classes and graduate on time. I explain that they won't pass any classes unless the schedule is specifically tailored to their needs.

I will lose. I maybe mad as hell, but I'm going to take it, and take it, and take it, because the system is too big, the apathy all pervasive, the goals misdirected, the money misspent.

But I'm still mad as hell. The match stays lit.

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