Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I'm closer to walking away than I have been all year. And there's one day left.

Reason one: some people are just mean.

Well yeah, people are always going to be jerks. People are always going to say and do cruel things with the intention to hurt you. And they will hurt you, seemingly with relish. The old sayings tell you to kill 'em with kindness, that honey catches more flies. Sometimes, though, honey doesn't work, and reflexively you reach for the flyswatter. You and everybody else that kid has dealt with for the last sixteen years. All you can really do is not let it phase you, roll with the punches. Don't blink. What a shock to have those blows casually ignored. Sometimes enough of a shock to challenge a belief, and enough times and you may start to see a shift in behavior. Not always, not every day. But maybe.

Reason two: some people are just lazy

This one gets me. I hear my staff and faculty toss it around like it's something a kid actively participates in, like an extracurricular. I  was a smart, capable kid. I was engaged. And damn was I lazy. It's so easy to forget how hard it is to be a teenager. Increasing responsibilities, plus all those hormones? It's only natural to shut down, or to do the bare minimum. To avoid. To hide. To complain. That was me. Hell, that's still me sometimes, and most people would agree that I did all right (in high school and since). The primary difference? My kids here at school have a fraction of the support I did. How can I abandon them too?

Reason three: Some people can't be fixed.

This is true, but not the way you might think. It's a fact of life. People will always think there is something inherently wrong with others. People who are different need to be fixed. People who are this or that, people who are angry or lazy, something is wrong with them. No. Something is wrong with you, me, the system, the world, that a kid can grow up with so much hate in her heart or so much weight on his shoulders. What's wrong is me, thinking I can change them. They may be broken, but that doesn't mean there is something wrong with them. There is so much right that I've been privileged to see this year. The angry girl channeling her aggression to challenge an injustice; the frustrated boy sticking with it, his pain visible, exposed by a simple algebraic equation; the spaz with a heart of gold showing me what it means to live in the moment (consequences be damned). There is nothing wrong with these kids except that they've always been told that there's something wrong with them. And I've told them that too, in my own moments of frustration, in my own moments of anger. And for that, I feel a deep sadness. Could I have done better, acted differently when faced with challenges, earned their trust, their respect? Probably. But in this moment, feeling pretty vulnerable as I mentally prepare for my last day, I can't change the past, I can't think about the things about myself that I want to fix. Because there's nothing wrong with me either.

Friday, June 1, 2012

caution: wet paint

When I was younger, I was cast as the kid Tom Sawyer hoodwinks into whitewashing a picket fence in a stage version of Twain's classic novel. It was a small part, and I'm pretty sure I had to wear overalls (not a good look for me), but playing the good-natured fool was pleasant enough. Why does this memory arise now, more than ten years later? Because yesterday, I spent three hours whitewashing our school's chicken coop, by myself, juvenile hooligans nowhere to be found. It was actually supremely pleasant working in the sunshine, despite how ill prepared I seemed to be, painting a whole gallon of primer with a two-inch wide brush. But it seems to be a fitting metaphor as our school year draws to a close.

See, what I've discovered in the months since my last blog post (sorry) is that the most fulfilling work I've done here is the behind-the-scenes, thankless work. Hear me out on this one. Our year has been tumultuous at best, but somehow we've managed to find ourselves ten days out, overwhelmed and exhausted but bolstered by high hopes for next year. Optimism for the big projects to come is tempered with the hesitant cynicism that has overtaken the glass-half-full worldview I'm used to. But doing what I can do, what needs to be done, knowing that the coat of white paint I've applied will become a blank canvas for next week or next year - and that the white won't show through after the project is complete - that gives me a sense of accomplishment that is a combination of the satisfaction of an afternoon's work and the pride I feel having dedicated my time and energy to this place for the small amount of time I've been here.

"I guess I'll do what I can," a student said to me while working on a project yesterday afternoon. Yes. Yes, I said. Always do what you can.