This was a rough week. I have one student who takes meds, but I think there are days where the effects wear off or when he doesn’t take them. It’s kind of disturbing to see the two sides of him: one where he attempts to model an idealistic vision of a ‘good boy’ (it is endearing but also kind of upsetting to see him try so hard to please me), and the other where he erupts into sadistic shrill curses and screams. This darker side of his two faces erupted after something had happened during lunch (a common occurrence with my students), and he began spewing angry verbal filth at me in the middle of a lesson. The guidance counselor couldn’t coax him out of class, and eventually he sat there drawing without saying anything, then finally gathered his things and walked out of class. I had to spend time that day and the next day discussing how to deal with anger and being upset.

What is interesting about this circumstance–and an innumerable number of similar occurrences–is that I constantly discover that I am learning the same things that my students are. It isn’t about multiplying decimals or writing complete sentences or Algonquian Native American wigwams; it’s about learning how to handle our frustration, deal with anger, mediate conflicts, and communicate what we feel in appropriate ways. These are the very areas that my students force me to struggle in. When they cuss me out to my face, when they turn around and have a discussion in the middle of my every sentence, when they are busier squirting glue onto their fingers instead of doing their math, when they fail to perform an activity I had planned, when they cry or yell or insult each other endlessly, when they hit one another . . . these are the times when I find myself struggling to force myself past the anger and hurt and upset and frustration and try to understand the root source of their problems. And most of the time, no, I am not the model of calm fortitude that I wish I could be. I end up yelling, bullying, forcing order and rigor upon their disorganized lives in every manner that I can. And part of this is necessary. Sometimes I have to yell in order to demonstrate that I care. Sometimes I have to be strict to give them the structure that they need. But sometimes, I know that I have failed them as a teacher, and I am yelling to obviate my wounded pride. I am yelling because I don’t fully understand their disabilities. I am yelling because I don’t fully understand their lives and their needs.

And this is what makes it hard. Not the hours of lesson planning every night and all weekend. Not the hours of meetings and paperwork and phone calls. Not the hours organizing bulletin boards and leveling books and creating SMART board presentations. It is the constant holes that are pricked in my self-esteem, the consistent reminders that I am frail human being with emotions and prejudices and self-induced blindness. The feeling and taste and texture of failure. Every single day. And this is the very experience that my students have endured since the beginning of their young lives.

The greatest struggle right now I have is trying to keep my energy levels up. I haven’t been able to run for a long time now, and my health is declining as a result. I’ve lost weight. I have strange growths in my neck. I’m developing asthma. So my focus, beyond simple survival–which is the mode I have been in–is to find a way to establish an exercise routine. And if I can keep myself healthy and keep myself positive, then I can keep myself calm and patient with my students.


Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

2 thoughts on “Fortitude”

  1. Hey Mark,
    I have read a couple of your posts before, and really enjoyed your writing. Mostly because I know how real and raw it is. My first years teaching were nothing like what you are going through now, but they were very tough. Then when I started subbing I had an extremely difficult class once that had a lot of kids with many of the lives and personalities you are describing. Already in high school they had parole officers, broken homes, disabilities etc. I remember the combination of feeling overwhelmed, helpless and at the same time the weight of their world on my shoulder and that was only one day I was with them. You are remarkable, and continue forward strongly. You must take care of yourself first, though, I’m glad you are recognizing your need for that. I have run hundreds of miles through life’s trials. If you want to run together or a sympathetic ear sometime, don’t hesitate to send me an email or facebook message.

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