This is Only a Test

21 Jun

I have spent a good amount of time in my life these last six years trying to explain (or justify) why I work with the students I chose to teach, long ago.  As well as why I love it.  I tell people I am from Jersey City (only partially true) and act as if I was lucky to have worked it all out.  I pretend my obligation is to kids “like me” as if I can sympathize.  It isn’t true entirely.  I had every reasonable opportunity in life.  I was born in the city, but moved to the suburbs.  I was born to wonderful parents.  Was raised in what anyone would describe as an idyllic setting.  I could teach anyone, and be just as ok as I probably am.  But I chose six years ago to teach in schools for the “left behinds.” Why?

 If I gave you the rundown of every kid who makes me proud, it would take up hours of your time.  I estimate having taught 1500-2000 kids in my career, and the vast majority (51% at least) have made me proud (if for only a fleeting moment, for some) in one way or another.  But I don’t do stats, I deal with individuals, so here goes:

I met Nate when he was a “new fish.”  First year in our school.  Way too old, and way to under-credited: unofficially, I believe 17 with 10 credits (by age17, most students in NYC have 30+).  He will probably be pissed when he reads this—as he reads most of my posts—but homeboy CANNOT WRITE.  He was seriously deficient in writing (despite being EXTREMELY intelligent in many other areas.) I Tried to work with him, tried alternative methods, tried to push him off on other teachers.  Nothing played.  He failed two English Regents in a row.  I got tired of it.  I don’t like seeing a kid I have grown to really and truly love fail a test that I have an answer for.

No piece of dramatic literature in the past 20 years has received more critical “shitting upon” than Suzan Lori Parks’ phenomenal “Top Dog, Underdog.”  No play should be more prominently urged upon NYC high school students of literature than Suzan Lori Parks’ “Top Dog, Underdog.”  I don’t say this because I heap presumptions about students’ empathy with the play.  I say it because I have yet to see a student who couldn’t illuminate in writing what it was about this play that touched them (in a good or bad way) and that is what literature should do.  I worked for one LONG afternoon with Nate, talking him through his thinking as he wrote about this play (which he read in my class LAST YEAR.)  I instructed him to translate the ideas and the content of what he had written into the essay he wrote for his State Test.  And he did so in a way that made me say: “Holy crap, I think someone gets what literature is all about!”  It is sad but true, this isn’t the norm in city high schools…not at all.

Memory is a freight train: I remember sitting on a friend’s patio, drinking brews. I remember sitting on a pew, watching a slideshow of the same friend’s life at his memorial service.  I remember life isn’t always fair. I remember hating the fact that I cannot do anything to change that.  I remember realizing I could at least dedicate my time to trying.  I remember I have been blessed in so many ways.  I have done a really great job at not remembering the rest.  This is what we do.

It’s not guilt or a bleeding heart or anything else that makes me say this: it’s having been a survivor of some real tough times, and having decided that I wouldn’t want to let anyone else have a life that’s tougher than it needs to be. That brings me to this: there is so much greatness ahead for the students I have taught, and for the students I will teach.  Not because I taught them or because I will continue to do so.  Not because they will meet standards and do well on state-administered tests.  But because we all have a way of surviving.  All of us.  Don’t care where you were born or whom you were born to.  Don’t care what you did wrong in your time, or who did wrong to you.  The one bittersweet blessing about living a life in which we get tested: we get used to being tested again, and again…and again.  And we learn the fallacy of our bullshit when we say: “It’s just me against the world.”  There is always someone out there who can help you pass that test.  Someone who can ignore his own interests and worries for a while and say: “You need to cross that river? I got you.”

My bro, I am so proud of you, buddy.  You took the challenge upon you to man up and kill that test, and you did it.  I love you, kid.  Pause…


2 Responses to “This is Only a Test”

  1. Nate June 28, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    I felt many different things in my life some pleasurable some painful (pause)

    This hurt me 

    I made a best friend … Someone I could count on to help me see things I couldn’t understand 
    Someone who trusted me with things and that that alone made me call tu my bro I look up to you even when you a a dick I would never turn my back on you . 

    Your moving on in life and I’m going to miss yu big bro school won’t be the same without you it’s really going to change big time but w.e I’ll deal with it 

    Happy I was blessed with your presence while I had the chance to. Happy I met yu but sad yu had to leave n move on … I understand why I’m just sad that’s all 😢😣😞 

    I love you bro thanks 4 all your help and advise experience and laughter … 

    I’ll miss yu 



  1. Feel Good Friday « schmidt1090 - February 15, 2013

    […] to be in attendance a couple weeks back for the graduation of 17 young men and women (including my boy Nate) whom I had taught there.  Before a back-drop with the theme of “Oh the Places You’ll […]

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