A day that is worth it, redux

While doing the usual cleaning-organizing-decluttering of all things physical and electronic, I dug up the following. I wrote it 3 months ago, on a day when I felt like I really knew who I was, and what I wanted, and didn’t give a hoot about what other people thought of me. It’s good to re-read stuff like this. It’s good to go back to the center and start over.

Here it is:

It doesn’t matter what happened to lead up to this, but some of my colleagues and I had a “secret meeting” today at lunch in order to discuss some actions we can take to reverse the negativity that is floating around our school, amongst our students and infiltrating into the staff.

It doesn’t matter what we came up with – well, it does, actually. We came up with REP tickets (a type of “Got Caught Being Good” thing, if you were wondering) and it’s a great idea, and it’s proven to work, and we have lots of energy and intiative behind it. We know our admin will support this, and we know some of the other teachers won’t, but we are going ahead and taking this step, because we need to take back our school from the multi-fight days (like today). We need to take back our school from the shouting and the cussing and the anger and the blame and the antipathy and the indifference.

It doesn’t matter how, or when, or where, or even IF this plan will fly smoothly. Why? Because one of my students was withdrawn from school today. This student is famous. I’ll call her Kate.

Kate has a history – her file is stuffed with referrals, detentions, SST notes, interventions, and disciplinary actions. She was put on a half-day contract for behavior. Her academic transcript has more F-bombs than a Spike Lee movie.

Kate was kicked out of her mother’s house last Friday. She is now staying with her dad in another town.

Kate has a funny email address. She uses her first name combined with a made-up last name. The last name sounds Hawaiian. Or South African. Whenever I see her email address in my inbox, I usually answer it first, before all the other ones. I never really understood why I did that until today.

Kate emailed me late yesterday afternoon for her grade in math. She was pulling a 65% average in my class, mainly because she as low test scores. Earlier in the school year, before December – before her half-day contract – she was pulling a 23% average, mainly because she wasn’t turning in homework AND she had low test scores.

I used to give her really low citizenship marks as well. But we’ve been working on it, and she’s been working on it with me. And I see her effort. So this progress reporting time, I was able to say her citizenship was satisfactory, and that she was making consistent effort.

I didn’t tell her all this, I only gave her academic grade. I asked how she was, and I hoped she was doing ok. I didn’t mention the move, or her mom and all that drama.

She replied this afternoon. This is her email, verbatim:

Okay thankyou, i won’t be going to CMS anymore so thankyou for being my teacher.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t finish grading everything today. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t finish teaching all that I had planned today. It doesn’t matter that half my students STILL mix up their ordered pairs, nor can they find the x- and y-intercepts when given an equation. It doesn’t matter that my 6th period class is like a zoo without cages.

Because I’m thankful for work that allows me to come home at night without complaining about my boss, or my colleagues (well, at least not the ones I work the most often with), or how boring it is, or how annoying my clients are, or how awful the deadline pressure is.

Not that I don’t have complaints. I do. But they are pretty insignificant. And frankly, they don’t matter. At least not when it comes to Kate.

Dear Kate, it is my pleasure to be your teacher. Keep your chin up and your nose clean; I believe in you! Best wishes in your future endevours. Sincerely, Ms. Ng

A few weeks ago, someone asked me how I was – they emphasized theI part, meaning they wanted a reply that separated me from my work. Apparently, I give off this impression that I am tied very closely to my work.

It took me awhile to come up with a reply that satisfied their requirements. But I felt rather fake afterwards.

I do not enjoy being fake. Sometimes, I lie because it just makes dealing with certain people easier – they are happier for not knowing, and I am happier that they don’t know, and it doesn’t hurt anyone.

But I did not enjoy lying this time. I don’t enjoy lying when it somehow refutes who I am, or what I am about.

I AM tied very closely to my work. But the thing that this very nice, very kind, very well-meaning person was ignorant about was that I am not who I am because of my work: my work is what it is because of who Iam. And one of the ways I can explain who I am is by telling stories about my work.

So this is who I am. And this is the story of Kate. And of my colleagues. And this is the story of me. It is worth it, because I believe in its worth.

What is your story? And is it worth it?

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