Thursday, June 30, 2011

Watching from Afar

Well, it’s final exam season here at the school. Today kids are dressed in yellow t-shirts as they sit quietly in rows sniffling and scribbling over long formed paper questions, algorithms, charts, and multiple choice. The smart ones prepare solitarily between breaks, the social ones scream and make a dramatic show out in the hallway where the bags are packed and stacked along the wall. It’s my job to proctor. So I sit and watch and reminisce like the big old sap that I am.
I have my rituals too. Before I pass out the test I have all the kids lift up their hands, “Show me your palms, you scalawags!” As if any of these kids would really cheat. I’ve seen some doozies in my many years: Answer sheets on shoe bottoms or rolled up inside mechanical pencil canisters, stuck to the lids of baseball caps and inside the cardboard holder of Startbuck’s cups.
I tell this to kids to break the ice, let them feel a little relief before the crush of exams. I don’t know if it helps or not. It helps me.
I’m losing a number of my favorite kids this year. There is Oliva, the strong willed New Yorker with stories of Brooklyn subway crazies and a long list of authors she loves, everyone from Jodi Piccoult to Maya Angelou to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Every day of class this kid was awesome. She cracked jokes, kept others alert and awake, said the most sincere and sweet and profane things. She’s a total original going back to a place that she will help shape and define. I will miss her tremendously.
Andy is another. Man I remember how he used to be so snarky. But the kid outworked everyone. While the other boys where playing ping pong, he sat in the shade and reviewed. He was the one who gave me the idea to clear out the desks one rainy afternoon and there, five stories above the city in our little cement classroom, run basketball drills to prepare for an upcoming school tournament. He’s bright and quick and has learned to be thoughtful, my favorite quality in a boy.
Salina is moving on to Canada. For the longest time I didn’t think she even knew, I mean, I think her parents were just going to pack a bag and send her. Let me tell you about resiliency, this kid has it in spades. Unassuming, standing in the middle of the pack, but when she lets you see it, when for the briefest moment she shows you her drawings or lets the poetry shards slip out of her notebook and onto the floor, you see that she’s brilliant. Just an average kid wanting ever so much to be average, yet inside she is a star. How cool is that?
Most teachers would say good riddance to Phillip. I mean, they would have reason. The kid was a blight. He’d curse, he’d yell, he’d throw stuff, he’d shut down and people out. He was a ticking time bomb. Born here in Taiwan but raised in Canada, the kid had gall and pent up frustration and a pair of stones like you wouldn’t believe on a pint sized munchkin two years younger than his classmates and a whole head and shoulders shorter.
Yet he turned it around. He did. They made him carry rocks at lunch in buckets, and stand with his nose in the corner for hours, and scrawl sentences a thousand times on paper, and it worked, maybe it worked. Who knows? Maybe all the letters home highlighting the good things I saw, maybe just talking to him with respect, maybe just talking to him at all? Anyway, I’ll miss it.
There are others. They come they go. But the thing about this time, about graduation, is that it is the loneliest time of the year. When people say goodbye. Everyone is so excited and homework is being ripped up into confetti and textbook set on fire and kids cheering and squealing tires in the parking lot, and teachers barricaded in staff rooms waiting for them to leave.
And then there are guys like me, standing there like some dope seeing them go. I stand on the periphery a great deal, watching from afar. I think they know. I think they understand, but I can never be sure.
Every couple of days or so I get a surprise letter from an old student. Just out of the blue something cool. Sometimes it’s just a friend request, how nice is that, you know. That a kid from years ago now all grown up would want to me your friend. That simple thing tells me a lot.
So, this is just to say I had a wonderful year. A great year. Laughter and learning, whispers and serious talk, reflection and realization, hard work that paid off and little trivial daily practices that have now become good habits. I love you guys. Thank you so much. Thank you so much.


1 comment:

  1. Hello,teacher Brian.I'm your student,Tiffany
    I'm so sorry that I forget to return the book that you lend me,and also,thankyou for lending me such a great book.I really love it
    I was thinking about how to return it to you.Maybe go to Wagor next semester?