Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Life With and Without Air Conditioning

At the end of the year there are series of moments that are a mosaic that makes up the end of Corps Members commitment. I will offer you these to you a series of short parts in the last week of school. All I've done here in Mississippi is owed to you all back home who have read, called, and donated. You have given money, time, and advice. These reflections are by no means comprehension or even that well written. They are my attempts to capture what happened here from my perspective.

I hope you enjoy parts one and two. Thank you.

I At The End
.At the end of two years with Teach for America I could hold out my hands a look at the ashes around me. All the burned up attempts and shattered flying machines I pedaled off numerous cliffs.  The cynical edge adopted in such a focus would indicate that the ten percent I’ve reached might have been reached anyway. Before such toxicity can converge  dozens of faces rush up to meet mine and shatter whatever self pitying vision was forming.  They are wide eyed with notebooks in hand, small mouths down turned into ovals. Their foreheads are sweaty because the AC is still broken in my room. They’re looking at me and their hands are extended out to all the work that I’ve assigned them. They’re pointing to piles of poetry and now they’re pointing at Ink Stains. I can seem them shouting their poems into the stained wood rafters of Turnrow Bookstore. They demand I see the good and learn. They demand what I ask of them.  

There’s always more work to be done. The movement occurs with nudges from a lot of shoulders. It  feels glacial at times. Nothing like what Ginsberg described in “America.” What I’ve done down here isn’t so much a mad shoulder to the wheel, but more the inching of a titan. In such slowness  guilt, repercussions, and doubt can dominate.. The staff that have seen countless CMs come and go in a range from the toxic to the mediocre to the exceptional, can always demand more. At the end of it though I have to remember the humid fanfare of my last few nights of Ypsi. When every face I ever knew  showed offered a hug, advice, a beer, and filled a sloping backyard with all the fuel that took from 94 to 75 to 240 to 55 until I arrived in Mississippi. I think of all the books that came down in some fifty boxes of all the notes and all the supplies and debriefs and thousands of sheets of paper and toner cartridges and lost sleep and face to face meetings and comments on essays and calls home and individual progress reports and countless phone calls with professors, master teachers, and TFA staff. I can look at all of that see ash or I can see the fire that burns without my insistent and interfering hands.

II The State Test

Two weeks ago  State test is in full effect. Teaching stops and the schools empty out with a full two weeks left on the roster. We all sit in the heat and we do our best to generate what we can. The only think sticker than those classrooms in late May heat is the shame and guilt of being so powerless in the face of that test. All the talk and writing and demonstrations of knowledge are flattened by some 400 multiple choice questions filled in silently a dark air conditioned gym. 180 desks lay out on a massive tarp and teachers roam and intimidate students we have watered with our hearts and minds. Every time I’ve seen my students sit in those desks they often look at me with fear. For many of them they’re futures are being determined by the few strokes of their pencil. Now my students, those thirty percent mentioned at the beginning, they’re fine. They smile and we shake hands, it’s the other seventy that are asking for a highlighter or just put their heads down or use an odd trick like starting on number forty five because that might change it. At times like those I try and sit in their shoes and I think of all the choices that lead the to being scared. The arguments that took them out of class, the choices on the corner, the substitutes, the teachers who placed the books on the desks put the questions on the board and sat down, and I think of myself and my catalogue of failures as an educator. I know that the greatest effect against this is dependability: a teacher who becomes a pillar, and then I sit in silence with the students from 8am till 2pm and I leave emptied and dehydrated. My thoughts blank. The first hour is clear though, I can see it all.

Next Part III: The Sunflower County Freedom Project. Part IV: Ink Stains.

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