Two days before the start of our midwinter recess, a friend of mine, a fellow teacher, was punched in the face by a student, the son of a school aide. The incident has been handled badly by everyone. My friend waited two days to start the paper trail, for all he knows he might have the kid in his class tomorrow. In fact, my friend might have him in his class tomorrow. He told me that when the kid was cocking his fist, he thought to himself, “I wonder if he would do this to Mr. Moore?”
I don’t know. I’ve never been punched in the face. I’ve been pushed; I’ve had spitballs, chairs, garbage cans, pencils, chalk, crayons, and other stuff thrown at me. I’ve been threatened by children and adults with violence; I’ve been threatened by children and adults with lawsuits, dismissal, “letters in my file.” I’ve been called “White Motherf–ker,” “White-Out,” “Chicken Tender,” “Twinkie,” “Gay,” “White Boy,” and “Racist.” I’ve also learned that sometimes these taunts and epithets aren’t meant to insult. The kids use these words among friends. I’ve learned how to react: Nothing attracts more insults than a wounded prig.
I love my job. I also love the regular vacations that my work provides. Tomorrow our vacation is over and I will have to readjust to my workday schedule—the routine that is the comforting structure upon which I build my week.
Teaching involves simultaneously managing hundreds of small tasks—everything from taking attendance to constantly monitoring each child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs—so it’s necessary to develop a very orderly approach to things. Tomorrow morning I will mechanically rise from bed at 6:23 a.m. (that’s 6:15 plus eight minutes of snooze time, if you’re wondering), perform my morning ablutions, make my coffee and prepare my lunch (a natural-peanut-butter sandwich and a Granny Smith apple, same thing I’ve eaten every day for the better part of two years), knot my tie, and then head out into the Astoria morning. This time of year, I feel lucky to be awake early enough to catch the sunrise out here in the big sky country of Queens. I will buy my paper from the guy dodging cars by the train station and head to the M60 bus to 125th Street. I will exchange looks with the other young teachers holding their canvas “Teaching Fellows” totes, all of us speechlessly agreeing, “Yes, six weeks ‘till Easter vacation.”
Thursday is a half-day because we have parent-teacher conferences. We teachers will be available to the parents from noon to 3 and 6 to 8. We’ll be handing out “Promotion in Doubt” letters, informing many parents that at best, their child should reconsider any summer plans, and at worst, their child might have to repeat the grade. I look forward to Thursday night, but not because I have a cruel streak. I enjoy meeting the parents, especially the parents who support their kids, bring them to libraries and museums, work overtime to get a computer. They’re strong people and I admire them.
One girl in my class has, for years now, been failing and getting into all sorts of trouble: threatening classmates, cursing teachers, hiding under her desk. Since October, we’ve been trying to move her into a special-education class, but these things take time, despite—or maybe because of (depends on who you ask)—the restructuring of the schools. Her grandmother came to a planning meeting we held last week and before even saying hello said, “I want her in special ed.” Everyone at the meeting—guidance counselors, psychologists, all of us sitting knee-to-knee in a tiny office—agreed with Grandma. It was a lucky coincidence that we also had a seat open in a special-ed class, so we don’t have to wait until next year to move her, as would usually be the case. This girl, in spite of her troubles, has perfect attendance and is usually the first or second person to arrive for class. I wonder whose class she’ll walk into tomorrow.