Friday, September 28, 2012

Time Passages



In the sometimes insanely narrow world of public education, an environment shaped by ever-changing initiatives and mandates, one filled with too many acronyms to remember properly,  a former co-worker of mine named Cindy was a breath of fresh air.  She infused her classroom with wry wit and humor—dancing a frantic Friday Dance in the hallway at the end of each week, sporting eccentric clothing (including a vintage WWII Red Cross worker’s cape and a voluminous purple tie-dyed maxi skirt), directing student plays, engaging students in massive art projects.  Cindy brought a much needed passion for learning for learning’s sake, compassion for students and co-workers, and a fiery impatience with nonsense into the school. 

Cindy recalled an anecdote to me years ago that has helped me a great deal in my personal and professional life.   She was in a parent-teacher conference for a hyperactive student who was known for his over-the-top antics and struggles with academics.  Cindy told me how she’d sat in a meeting with teachers, the misbehaving boy’s parents, and administrators, a group who, in typical fashion, were wringing their hands over the litany of this student’s shortcomings that had been laid on the table.  Cindy recounted how she paused a minute and said loudly, “You’re all forgetting something.  He will grow up!”   

This boy did grow up and did just fine, establishing himself with a successful career as a salesman, where his unlimited energy and talkative nature are assets.  I’ve called on Cindy’s story of this young man to help me in my dealings with my younger child (who informed me at a very young age that his “job” at school was to entertain the other students to break up the daily torture of “prison”).  I’ve also seen her statement about maturing prove itself recently, when my school hired a young Spanish teacher who is also one of my former students.  While Paul never proved to be a serious classroom disruption back in high school, his biting wit and subtle encouragement of off-task classroom debate (for two years in a row in daily classes that were 90 minutes long) could be trying.  Listening to him bemoan reading Sir "Gayman" and the Green Knight or arguing that, of course, five year olds should be allowed to watch R movies made for lively, but sometimes exhausting classes.  And the social studies project  dealing with a minor Greek goddess that he turned in to my friend Cindy might have been met with anger by a less good-natured instructor.  When he presented his project Paul discussed how this goddess was known for her "hideous ugliness" and displayed a box painted black on the inside with a photo of Cindy's face on the inside!  She'd been feeling guilty about responding to him pretty roughly with some verbal jibes the week before, so she was able to laugh at this juvenile act of revenge.    

The grown-up version of this student is a fine teacher now, his pointed sarcastic humor injecting life into his classroom and staff meetings. He’s even married--to a young woman I also taught.  She was a demure excellent student when I taught her, one whose practical nature must now certainly temper her husband’s high jinx. Our school had a baby shower for the two last Wednesday, and I gave them a cabled lace baby sweater I’d rushed to complete before the party. I’m certain that as this baby grows, she will manifest some of her father’s spark of devilish humor. After all, we all grow up, but our children, sometimes much to our discomfort, remind us of our younger selves—including some aspects we’d like to forget.


Paul and his wife, Ana, are shown here with a hand-knitted bag that a co-worker's mother made in the 1950s.  Ginny, the giver of the bag, does not knit, but her late mother did beautiful and prolific work.  Ginny, who has one child, a grown daughter with Down's Syndrome, wanted to pass the bag on to a family with a little girl.   
This bag has lost much of its pink color, but the fine handiwork is still apparent.  I'd like to recreate this design. 

Here's one more picture of the happy couple.  Paul is holding up the sweater I made. 

4 comments:

  1. Always disconcerting and educative to see what one's past students emerge as! Often the results are unexpected I've found among my past pupils! And I wonder whether my own school and university tutors would say the same! They might well! Bearing in mind one of my Oxford college confreres is now making serious political waves in the UK I am sure they are! Your baby cardigan is beautiful by the way and I knew you'd finish it in time! E x

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  2. Carolina - I often find that the most trying students have qualities that I really admire. At the moment I am struggling with one 14 y old girl who I have to 'deal with' 4 days a week, but beneath the trouble that she presents me I admire her fiestiness and her desire to question everything. There are many times in the day when I see their dissatisfaction as a natural product of young energetic bodies which are made to sit still for 5 hours a day - it's not really a natural process for growing teenagers. There are also times when I really want to laugh with my students at the funny things they do - recently just as I was coming into class they all started doing a Mexican Wave, and I wanted to join in too, but unfortunately the assistant head was just passing by so I had to put my sensible, grown-up teacher hat on! I'm also glad to see that the American state system is as frequent as the British one in throwing new initiatives at its teachers - because us teachers have so much time on our hands don't we?

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    1. Your response really shows me how similar teaching is around the world--or at least in the US and UK. I agree that sometimes it's difficult not to join in the lunacy that sometimes occurs in the classroom.

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  3. Such a wonderful story, I think it is so interesting that you taught both of them! I wonder what amazing positive effect you had on those two, I'll bet you were their favorite teacher. The sweater is truly adorable, such a lucky little baby she will be to get to wear it.

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