It’s standardized test time at work, and this means that school has been more stressful and shaming than usual. On Friday, our rooms were inspected and everyone who didn’t have every single thing off the walls, bookshelves covered, and students completely silent was subject to shaming announcements over the intercom and nasty write-ups.
When I opened my write-up and read it, something surprisingly joyful bubbled up in me. I don’t know if it was the awesomeness of my date the night before or the kind colleague who offered to stay after work and help me finish my room. Whatever it was, it added up to this bright phrase shining out of my heart: “Go fuck yourself.”
But it wasn’t the sort of “Go fuck yourself” that comes from anger or makes you want to fight. It was almost made out of love. In that moment, I knew that everything I’d given and everything I’d accomplished so far vastly outweighed any snotty letter or post-test chattiness. Even a month ago, I’d’ve been devastated by that day, and I’m sure I’ll be devastated by many more, but for now, what a surge of self-love.
One accomplishment that got me to this proud point was a fabulous student I’ll call R. He transferred to our school a few months ago and brought so much happiness to our often-snipey classroom. While I’m hesitant to categorize a third grader like this, the kid is clearly as gay as the day is long. He’s also one of the most centered and confident people I’ve ever met. He gleefully practices dance routines and cartwheels with the girls while the rest of the boys are trying to sneak in forbidden games of football.
He’s thoughtful and kind, participates in class, and has the neatest handwriting you’ve ever seen. Yet his behavior grades from his old school were low, as was his reading level. Working with R. really helped me to understand that it’s not just teaching skills that I have to offer, that what really can help a child to thrive is welcome and approval in the midst of a narrow-minded community that often offers none. That’s something I can do even on my worst day.
We do live in a very homophobic area, (and I’m pretty sure every school is a homophobic area) so he often tells me about the boys calling him names. The other day when we were lined up for lunch, he sadly told me that another student had called him gay. I had to choose my words carefully so as not to ruffle any school or parent feathers. I told him that anyone who makes fun of an entire category of people is a prejudiced knucklehead, that he’d meet gay people in his life and they might be good or bad, that being gay wouldn’t have anything to do with it.
I made him repeat all that back to me so I could be sure he’d heard it. He seemed satisfied with my explanation and went in to lunch. the next day, he brought me this very blingy ships-wheel ring that I immediately decided was my moral compass.
R’s behavior scores at his old school made me think of my own assessments and self-assessments, how someone or something good can be kept from thriving just by being in a hostile place. It reassures me that no matter where I am next school year, I will be able to learn and grow as a teacher and as a person, but the more barriers I remove and the kinder I am to myself, the better I will be able to blossom and be present for the R’s of the world, and I guess for the less-fabulous students too.