Saturday, October 11, 2008
(An image of last year's honors class just before Christmas break)
Did you hear it? Neither I. The power’s out, so the school bell didn’t ring. Nevertheless, we’re in session. (And my battery-operated fan attached to a spray bottle has become my new best friend.)
The seniors’ first project of the year was to create coats of arms to decorate the cover of their journals. We had mottos: “Live hard and die,” “Be all you can be,” “Family and love.” We had symbolic charges: crossing palms, the island’s monolithic latte stones, 670s—Saipan’s area code used on island like a graffiti artist’s tag. We had supporters made of rosary beads and flame tree fronds.
As the students presented, I realized my face was aching from smiling all the time. It was so lovely to see them share themselves. I was loving it. I’m sure it helped that the power actually stayed on all day—a first that week. Still, I am surprised at this sneaking-up-on-me feeling that I do care about this.
My first year of teaching, caring was a matter of getting the basics done without burning out. An oh-my-gosh-I-need-to-make-480-copies-&-grade-second-period’s-quizzes-&-eat-lunch-in-50-minutes kind of way. This year, an odd thing is happening. I am starting to be overwhelmed by what I can only describe as profound caring for these students.
This summer, I took the art Praxis test in case I was able to teach art this year. Afterwards, I went to reward myself with brunch at my favorite café in Ashland, Oregon. It was a weekend morning, so the place was packed. There were only two seats left at the counter, and another woman and I found ourselves no longer strangers as we read sections of the menu aloud:
“Oatmeal pancakes with maple butter?”
“Oooh, blueberry streusel.”
“Or linguisa-spinach scramble . . . .”
Once we ordered (oh, those oatmeal pancakes) we started talking. I discovered she has been teaching various grade levels and subjects for almost twenty years. I asked what her greatest piece of advice was. She looked above the head of a chef in the kitchen and then back to me.
“Be nice.” She nodded. “If I can teach them to be nice, I’ve been successful.”
If I were to create a motto for my own journal, it wouldn’t be too different. “Be kind.” Caring then comes, free of charge.