You Run With the Devil

28 Sep

Authors Note: This post was originally much longer, more detailed, and more a work of genius.  It got deleted when I went to publish.  Welcome to my week.

2:30 a.m., the streets of crown heights are rain-damp and quiet.  Occasionally a car speeds down Bedford, or a man stoops over a garbage can looking for bottles and cans.  The lights of the Homeless Shelter for Men on Franklin blaze, some 100 panes of furnace-fire light shredding the mist and clouds that obstruct the view of the tops of skyscrapers in Manhattan.  It is the first night that I cannot see the many-colored peak of the Empire State Building.  Two policemen patrol their beat on the street below me.

I am thinking–for the first time–in six years, about the question I suppose I have been running from: is this all a waste of time?  Are some students so broken by the adults in their lives, by the lives they have been given, or chosen for themselves, too young to know better, that they are simply beyond help?  Is my career a task even Sisyphus would let roll away.  I am hoping, at 2:30 to look out into that mist, those empty streets–and, I suppose, find some kind of answer.  A light, blurred by rain, flashes from red to green.  A man walking one way, makes a sudden turn for no apparent reason.  Someone–even at this hour–is jogging along the sidewalk.

One of the characters in Samuel Beckett’s odd and perplexing novel Waiting for Godot said in a moment–among many similar moments–of frustration, uncertainty, and existential crisis: “I must go on.  I cannot go on.”  I wonder if indeed, these six long years I have merely been Waiting for Godot.

I felt last night as if I had been run over by a train.  As if, for the first time in six years, I was clearly seeing the impossibility of the mountain I have chosen to climb, the sheer absurdity of such a trip to the summit.  I stared at the ceiling, and listened to the rain, steady at first against the windows, and then intermittent, then gone, as it turned to mist and fog.  What am I doing, why am I doing it? Is this pointless? Am I an awful teacher? A fraud?  And then I found myself standing on the roof, watching the lights of Manhattan shimmer in the haze.  Down Bergen, a few blocks off, a light went off on the steps of an apartment building.  A block closer, another turned on.

How does one respond to a week like this? How does one go on? Fights, a student with a medically diagnosed mental disorder tearing my room apart.  A stapler flying past my head.  More fights.  Explosions in the hallway.  Police, police, police. Horror stories of home lives.  Homeless lives.

A 16 year old student comes up and says, “Mr. I don’t mean to act up in your class, it’s just…I don’t want them to know I can’t read.  At all.”  I cannot go on. I must go on.

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3 Responses to “You Run With the Devil”

  1. Randell Schmidt September 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Ohmygosh Geofff! You are more than a candle in the wind, you are these kids’ beacon of hope—always know that. I love you, Bibma

  2. Libby September 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    I didn’t know you were still posting on this, was pleasantly surprised to rediscover it. Man, this was great to read today. I had a terrible day yesterday, three students melted down in the same class period – boom, boom, boom. The last one flipped his shit, cursed me out and called me some really ugly (and creative!) names in front of the whole class because I accidentally bumped his elbow with a guitar as I walked by. I’m not going to lie – it sucked. I know they’re 12 and are dealing with a mountain of issues, so I felt ridiculous crying after school but I couldn’t help it. He apologized to me later and said he doesn’t know why he gets so upset. At times like that, it can be so hard not to feel like a terrible teacher, but I have to think about all the kids (including the one that flipped out) I would let down if I allowed incidents like that to suck the joy out of teaching. I’m sorry you had a hard week, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. Keep on keeping on – good luck with the school year!

  3. Kimberly Ann Borin October 2, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    Geoff,
    Thank you for your words and for the courage to write the words out loud. You give voice to the questions that many teachers, parents, kids, workers of all kinds and people ask – “Does what I do matter?”
    Well, YOU matter. Your presence matters.

    The fact that you show up, you care, you take the time be present to your students and you write about it – matters. It matters to your local community and now to the global community too – that is a big reach my friend.

    I know that the difference you make in the lives of others does beyond distance but over time as well. Who knows what seeds of magnificence you bring the lives of those around you – even in the midst of chaos.

    Trust that what you do matters, and that your presence matters in ways you may never know. Thank you for sharing your words, thoughts and feelings. It mattered to me.

    Go well!
    Kimberly B.

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