Amanda and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad November Monday

Amanda and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad November Monday
(With apologies to Judith Viorst)

I left my office without my binder and then I had to run up to get it. And when I got to Grade 9 English class, no one was in their seat and, to make matters worse, the EA was running late. I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad November Monday.

During sit and read time, students stood and talked. And during stand and talk time, they were too tired to get out of their seats. They went to the bathroom and played on their phones and needed to see me in the hall – urgently. Someone threw a spitball. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad November Monday.

During writing time they couldn’t find their notebooks or their pencils… even when I gave them notebooks and pencils. They couldn’t read the sentence starter on the board and couldn’t think of what to write on the paper… even though we’d just discussed the entire topic. It was definitely a a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad November Monday.

I asked them to sit down. I asked them to put their phones away. I asked them to at least talk quietly. No one even listened. I wished it were a sunny Thursday in May.

I’ve tried teaching Spiderman, but they wanted a different version. I’ve tried graphic novels, but they only want to read them on their own. I’ve even tried letter writing. They don’t write letters. I could tell we’d reached a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad November Monday.

I could tell because I’ve begun doubting my teaching. I’m not planning enough, and I’m moving too fast, or maybe too slowly. I’m only a third-rate teacher and I need to improve my classroom management. “I need you to stop acting like 5-year-olds” I said to the class. “I need you to actually do your work before some Thursday in May!”

In our office, one colleague has finished her report cards, and another has finished her marking. One has evening plans with her family. Guess who has to finish report cards and drive her own children to parkour in the snow? No doubt about it: it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad November Monday.

There were late essays to mark, and I hate marking. There were comments to write, and I hate comments. My children were loud and my tea got cold and I had to drive home in the snow. I hate driving in the snow.

It was definitely a a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad November Monday. But I know some days are like that, even some Thursdays in May.

 

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Just conversations

Yoga had ended and Melanie and I were waiting in the narrow hallway for our friend Pam to catch up to us. As other students came and went, their awkwardly shaped yoga mats slung over their shoulders, we tried to make space by flattening ourselves against the wall and then, when that didn’t work, moving away from the studio door and towards the exit. This maneuver was complicated by the custodian’s unfortunately placed cleaning cart. I sighed, waited for a break in the flow of people, and scooted around to the other side.

I leaned against the wall and realized that Melanie had not followed me. She was on the other side of the cart, chatting with the custodian. Snippets of their conversation floated down the hallway: “So far!” she exclaimed. He gestured and smiled, leaning towards her and saying something quietly. “Well, I hope it goes well for you.” Melanie nodded. Then Pam appeared, Melanie said goodbye, the custodian flashed a smile at all three of us, and off we went.

The whole exchange was fleeting – maybe 30 seconds – and, in many ways, it was no big deal. Except for this: I literally had not seen the custodian until Melanie talked to him. And not because he wasn’t there. He was. I had registered his cart more fully than his person. I had been more aware of the obstacle his work presented to my progress than I was to his physical presence as a human being.

I was humbled. Oh, I know that I am not a bad person. Sometimes – often! – I am a person who notices people, who acknowledges them and talks to them but, on this day, if Melanie hadn’t paused to chat, this man would have been entirely invisible to me. To make matters worse, he was a person of colour engaged in cleaning an area that was largely used by white people. And I had not seen him at all. I wonder how many others I have missed entirely?

Melanie and I have started a podcast called “Just Conversations” about our journey to become antiracist educators; we just put out our first episode. If I felt vulnerable starting this blog a year and a half ago, I feel vulnerable all over again talking about my teaching practice and all the things I need to learn about equity and inclusion and racism and more. This moment in the hallway screamed at me: “What right do you have to talk about this? You didn’t even see him.” But I can’t do better if I don’t try. I can’t do better if I don’t turn and see what others are doing. I can’t do better if I don’t even know what I don’t know.

I haven’t told Melanie about the moment I witnessed – she’ll read about it here first – but I’ve been thinking about it. She and I have been thinking and talking about racism and equity for a while now; she won’t begrudge me either what I saw or what I didn’t see. We’re good partners for this journey. I’m lucky to be talking, reflecting and learning with someone who can see things I cannot and do so without judgment. May I offer her the same.

And, if you’re up for adding another podcast to your queue, here’s our first one. In it, we ask the question How do we handle challenging conversations with students who come from a position of privilege? We talk about a classroom lesson on cultural appropriation and Halloween costumes; some of the white students seemed to miss the point. Then we have to wrestle with what to do. Kind of like I need to do on a regular basis.

 

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