Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Waiting #SOL17

Our view of the #Eclipse17
At times I am a character in Samuel Beckett's existential tragicomedy Waiting for Godot. The play opens with Estragon telling Vladimir there is 

Nothing to be done.

Vladimir replies: 

I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't tried everything. And I resumed the struggle...

I haven't read Waiting for Godot in many years, yet its existential theme of life's meaninglessness speaks to me as I enter year 37 of my career. I've spent 28 years in my current school. 

The play revolves around Estragon and Vladimir sitting under a tree awaiting the arrival of Godot. Essentially, these two await something that never happens. They await someone who never arrives. Through their waiting, they realize the futility of their own existence, the wastefulness of waiting. 

The play includes levity and sadness. 

The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.

My experiences these past 28 years speak to the tragicomic, with the emphasis often on the tragic. I endured teaching under two really awful principals during much of my tenure. I've treasured a phone call I received the night in 1991 when I learned about who would take the place of a beloved principal whose brother died unexpectedly. This death prompted my principal, Bob Gould, to retire, and his retirement altered my life in ways I've never recovered from. I went from being the teacher who "saved our debate program" to a target of my new boss. In short, I suffered. Yet the voice on the phone reminded me that others who had suffered under this man were "dancing in the street" upon receiving the news of his departure. That an administrator, the parent of one of my students, shared this information with me became a life-raft for more than a decade. Knowing his reputation help me survive. 

I grapple with knowing how to write about these struggles without sounding bitter. These difficult times have motivated me to create a professional life outside my building. 

The story of teaching in repressive conditions is something I've not discussed publicly. I've focused on my students during my teaching storms and anchored my hope in them. Indeed, the departure of the second tyrant changed my circumstances significantly. For that I'm grateful, but I am still waiting. In the words of the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti,

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting... 
for the Age of Anxiety 
to drop dead...
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
....
and I am waiting for my number to be called
.....
and I am waiting 
for the storms of life 
to be over
and I am waiting 
to set sail for happiness
....
I am waiting for the day 
that maketh all things clear...
and I am waiting 
for Alice in Wonderland 
to retransmit to me 
her total dream of innocence...
...
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again 
youth's dumb green fields come back again
....
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever 
a renaissance of wonder.

Yet I can't shake the idea that time is waning and that I'll always be waiting. Beckett characterizes this waiting as awful. It is. There is something unsettling, something awful, about nearing the end of a long teaching journey awakening to the cruelty that these years of waiting will be for naught, to realize I'll never have that carpe diem moment for which I long. It's as though something important has died yet continues to live. 

Vladimir and Estragon wonder: 

What are we doing here, that is the question. 

Yet they assure themselves they know:

And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come--

Through my career of waiting, there are those moments apart from my job that offer wonder. Monday, I only needed to look to the heavens for such a moment. My husband, granddaughter, and a brother watched the eclipse with me. We were close to the path of totality but not quite there. 

Each Tuesday the Slice of Life story challenge
happens on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Thank you, TWT, for
sponsoring this writing life that is my lifeline. 


Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Lonely Classroom

NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING
          ---Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning: 
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking 
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Walking into my classroom for the first time after summer break, I'm never sure what awaits me. The detritus from upgrades and waxing loom in stacks of desks, misplaced boxes, tangled computer chords, and grease marks on furniture, residue from workers who invite themselves to lounge without considering the greasy tattoos they'll leave behind. 

I face the mess. 

Begin the arduous task of repositioning the room. 

Begin making changes to the room's layout now that the boxy old television no longer hangs from the northeast corner. Only a tan square and two small holes, the outline of the bracket that held the antiquated screen, remain. Maybe someone will paint the scar and fill the holes later. Maybe it will remain as a reminder of forgotten technology, a television considered cutting-edge in its newness years ago. 

How do teachers turn the empty classroom into a community, especially when a cocoon of isolation ensnares our profession. When systemic power structures have little regard for any sense of fairness and justice?

Years ago, after my divorce, a student asked: "Are you going to remarry?"
"I don't know?"
"How can you stand to be alone?" the student stated more than asked.
"A bad marriage is a very lonely place." 

I think about the good and bad years in my career as I unstack the desks and tug at the teacher desk in a struggle to wedge it from the floor where a veneer of wax anchors it. Last yer was good.

I'd forgotten I'd left all the bulletin boards up at the end of May until I walked into my room last week. One less task to complete. High school teachers rarely plan and execute room decor with the flair of elementary teachers. I covered the multi-colored film border in the southwest corner of the room with the new black and white polkadot border I'd purchased. I'll take the old and new down in a couple of years. I stapled poster edges and changed the border on my Nerdy Book Club bulletin board that's been up for the past two years. 

In a few days I'll stack handouts on the front table, write greetings on the white board, review new and true first-day lessons, and paste a smile on my face. I'll swim into a new school year and greet students, shaking their hands, and thanking them for being there. I am grateful for their presence in my room and in my life. We will read poetry, stories, novels together. We will ask tough questions that likely will remain unanswered. I'll say, "I don't know" often because these days I really don't know. I have no answers. I too seek both the questions and the answers and am often only given silence. These students will be my buoys, and I will try to be theirs, as I paddle into the unknown that awaits them and me. 

But if you see me waving...