Teaching, Youth, Oxymorons, and Me

The sky was oddly bright today when it was time for the students to go home. Daylight Savings never fails to startle me–what a difference an hour brings.

I looked up from my desk which was littered with mostly graded tests and book reports, knickknacks confiscated from students’ desks, and a large bottle of mango lassi. If I were less exhausted, I would have crossed the room to open the blinds further and fully enjoy the late afternoon sun, but instead, I just looked out at the parking lot and pinched the bridge of my nose. 5:30 p.m. only half an hour to go before quitting time.

It’s odd to be the one at the big desk, the one sitting in the swivel chair of power, and it’s stranger still to actually be partially responsible for a classroom full of seven-year-olds. Less than a year ago, I still had my knees shoved under a student’s desk, fidgeting uncontrollably, and waving my hand in the air. My appearance hasn’t changed in the slightest, and I’m hardly any wiser, and yet the kids look at me as if I have all the answers. They don’t know that in many ways, I’m still as much a child as they are. I’m still wide-eyed, a little too naive, and the day when I think before I act is still a long time coming.

But I just smile and answer their questions. Yes, you’re supposed to underline the subject and circle the verb, and no, you’re not allowed to go to the bathroom in the middle of a lesson. I mess up, accidentally spell things in French instead of English when it’s late on a Friday and my brain is muddled beyond belief (5:30 wake ups are not my friend) or mess up the instructions for a grammar worksheet, and they forgive me instantly. We start over again until we all get it right.

They ask funny questions, “Are you married? Do you have children?” And all I can do is laugh and say “one day, but not now.” They don’t know that “one day” is farther away than they probably think. Give me half a decade, and then we’ll reassess. The rest of the staff can’t seem to guess my age. “Are you in high school yet, sweetheart? My daughter’s your age–she’s a sophomore right now. When did you graduate from college?” I just want to finish microwaving my soybeans and rice. I’m an oxymoron. A jumbo shrimp, if you will.

I’ve put my foot down as far as discipline goes–if you start skipping on the way to the bathroom, you will go back to the classroom door and repeat your journey until you can walk quickly and quietly, during silent reading, we are going to adhere to both words, and if you show anymore sass, you’re going to the principal’s office–but the fun remains. I tell stories at snack, sit with them at lunch, and let them dance to the Jackson Five for a few minutes in the afternoon. In a weird way, I feel like I’m babysitting, only instead of getting insomnia-ridden two-year-olds to bed, I’m just trying to get seven-year-olds to pay attention. Both tasks are not for the faint of heart or the impatient, but that moment when you sit back and take a big sigh of relief, knowing that you’ve just done something good and worthwhile, taken care of a child’s need, makes all of the frustration and exhaustion worth it.

We’ll make it work whether I’m fifty-eight or eighteen. I’ve got more papers to grade, more power-points to be created, and more lessons to be planned. Tomorrow will be here in a matter of minutes and unlike last year, falling asleep in the classroom would result in more than a trip to the nurse.