“Miss, how long have you been teaching?” In one motion, he picks up a stool, arcs it under his body, and plunks himself down across from me. I stop eating my lunch and look up.
“More than 20 years. I’ve kind of lost count. Why?”
“Ok. So. You know how to make kids stop talking, right?” He’s taking up a lot of space – legs spread, elbows on my desk, newly-bearded chin balanced in his hands as he glares at me intently.
I’m not sure where he’s going with this line of questioning and it makes me a little nervous. He’s not an easy kid to read. He arrived at our school early last year, and his life before that was not easy. Heck, his life after that was not easy. He’s intense and funny and thoughtful, but he can be impulsive and independent well beyond what is good for him. When I taught him during that rocky first semester, I learned quickly that his questions are almost always multi-layered and that he wants real answers.
“It’s never that easy,” I tell him, and I think of some of our stand-offs in the classroom.
Some of those memories must occur to him, too, because we look hard at each other until I finally break. “Spill,” I say. “Who do you want to stop talking?”
Three ninth grade girls in the math class he’s peer tutoring are driving him crazy. “They talk all the time! They’re so rude! They don’t know what a great opportunity they have! Mr. W’s an excellent teacher.”
He’s already tried to divide and conquer. He’s figured out who’s the leader. He’s tried being nice…
-Pause here for a second-
He is a peer tutor.
He is working with 14-year-olds in a math class.
He’s seeking advice from teachers he respects because he wants to go to the classroom teacher with ideas.
He is a peer tutor.
He is helping out in a math class. He is seeking advice from teachers.
We had a good talk, and I made a few suggestions. And I told him that the suggestions probably won’t work – who can stop three determined 9th graders from talking? – but I doubt he’ll give up.
When he left, I might have been a little teary. He’s a peer tutor. A peer tutor. I might be a little teary again right now. Sometimes teaching is the best job ever.
You must eat real food! If you’re not off that computer in 5 minutes… No. More. Handstands. Wheat Thins alone do not constitute a healthy lunch.
It’s late, and I’m tired. I lost my temper with my children earlier this evening over the myriad phrases I’ve said a thousand times. Too often, these shrill phrases feel like the soundtrack of my evenings. By the time bedtime arrives, I am so frazzled that I’m not sure I can outlast the children. Of course, I have no choice, so I continue.
Upstairs we settle into my bed, and the younger one reads out loud in French. A year ago he could barely do this; now even when he stumbles, he corrects himself and goes on. He is concentrated and sure. Next, I read aloud. The boys ask questions, move around, clip their toenails, draw, get water, but mostly they listen. Sometimes, like tonight, the book leads us to unexpected discussions about things like what is a sijo and what makes one poem better than another. (Thank you, Jason Reynolds, for putting poetry in Miles Morales: Spider Man.) No matter how frustrating the evening has been, as we read aloud, the complaints fade away and we find ourselves together in a new place. I read and I read. The boys almost always ask for one more page…
And then, I snuggle the 8-year-old into and sing to him. Three lullabies. Every night. We say goodnight and he smothers me with kisses, triumphantly exclaiming, “I win!” I have to respond, “You always win!” and am rewarded with his giggle as I turn off the light and move into his brother’s room. There, my newly-serious 10-year-old says, “Would you like to have a conversation? What would you like to talk about?” and we snuggle in for five more minutes of murmured chitchat.
Lights out and I the stairs creak as I head back to the kitchen. Brief silence followed by sudden gratitude that my evening soundtrack is richer and more varied than I originally thought.