The fact is is that there is nothing simple. Nothing just as it is presented to you. Because that presentation is based upon some psychological or emotional need that may not have much at all to do with you. It has to do more or less with a specific placement in time based upon considerations of a past or a future in which you are but a provider or representative of some imagined or nostalgic resource or denier of resource.
To be a teacher of students living in poverty with “exceptional learning needs,” you have to be much more than patient. You have to be well-versed in the art of controlling your emotions and your impulsive reactions to events. You have to capable of coping with a constant verbal and physical barrage of harassment, abuse, and manipulation. You have to be a jazz artist in the moment, deftly maneuvering amidst the bricolage of suffering, despair, and aggression to diffuse emotional triggers and focus attention back on development and progress.
Really, you just might have to be some prototypical admixture of saint and comic and motivational speaker. And that I ain’t. Most days, I honestly don’t have the ability to stand back and take the abuse lightly or in a sagelike zen jedi manner. I generally jump into the fray, and I deliver it right back. Or I just simply feel like crying. But there are days where I am able to soar like a hi-hat halcyon guided stream through the jagged emotional explosions of my students, and I find some magic way of twisting each outburst into a teachable moment. Those are the moments that help me keep my nose above the water.
Some days, like today, I can barely even remember what happened. It’s just too much, too raw, too full of a suffering so overwhelming and deep that I don’t even know how to begin to untangle it. It can be shocking, traumatizing, rendering me incapable of thinking, only of thickening my tongue with a glass of whiskey before toddling off to bed. But I suppose that this is the induction into the world of my students. Some of them have lived in shelters, some of them have been transferred from foster situation to foster situation. Their own mothers given up on them. Rejected. Spurned. Lost. In psychological terms, their daily lives are filled with acute and chronic stressors, in response to which they have learned to cope by finding the point of weakness in whomever happens to be near to them and digging in with their nails and attempting to rip into someone else just the way they’ve been ripped into.
But I will not accept excuses. Either from myself or from them. We must be better than ourselves. We must be better than the world around us. We must be everything and nothing, every moment, every day, tearing ourselves down again, rebuilding ourselves over, until the manna that is either imagined or real begins its earth bound descent into the imperfect folds of our dreams.