Thursday, October 16, 2008

185 Mirrors

For the most part, you have to leave yourself at home when you go to school. From 7:30 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon, who I am doesn’t matter. Whatever is going on in my life outside of the walls of my school cannot be on my mind while I am in my classroom. It’s an extreme juxtaposition to my past jobs, which consisted of hours spent in front of a computer – hours in which my personal life was fueled rather than stoked, through the vehicles of email, gchat, text messaging and emailing. Not only do I not have the ability to pay attention to myself or my life when I’m teaching – I have to pretend like it doesn’t exist.

“Miss Klein – what’s your first name?”
“My first name is Miss.”
“How old are you?”
“The subject of this class is not Miss Klein, it is social studies – does anyone have any questions about social studies?”

What’s most surprising, is that by requiring that I abandon myself and my perception of myself, this job has shows me thing about myself every day that would have gone unnoticed. Being surrounded by students is like being surrounded by hundreds of mirrors, and I can see the reflection of my attitude, my words, and my behavior in the reactions that each and every one of them have to me. There are days when I don’t even realize that I am tired or crabby until they ask me what’s wrong – or where I am wondering why things are going so well, and realize that I’ve been in a good mood all morning. Not that it’s formulaic – a good mood certainly does no always equal a good day – and sometimes a dose of my worst mood is what it takes to get some semblance of order into the class – but it is never the case that what is going on with me doesn’t affect them.

The students are intensely attuned to every move of the teacher. They notice things that people who have known me my whole life wouldn’t be able to recall.

“Ms. Klein – one of your front teeth is a little bit longer than the other.”
“Miss Klein – do you wear contacts? Your eyes have them flecks in them.”
“Ms. Klein, hahaha, your cheeks get a little red when you smile”
“Oh Miss Klein – I love when you give that angry look like that – it’s funny.”
“Miss Klein – you are in a better mood when you are wearing dressing and skirts I think than when you wear pants.”

They notice when I eat an how I say my words, every pet peeve I have about their behavior, every eye roll and sarcastic comment. They know what I want when I raise a hand over my head and sit on my desk, and they know how to behave when I’m furious. They know when they can’t push me any further and when I still have a little bit of myself left to give them. They notice me – even on the many many days when I don’t want to be noticed, and in spite of my efforts to hide myself, they notice everything. And they react. I won’t even know that I’m making a face until I see them all reacting to it. I can be subtle to the point where others would never notice – just tilting my head or raising an eyebrow, and they respond.

They know whether or not a teacher likes them or cares about them, and they act accordingly. They don’t go to a class if they don’t’ think you care. They don’t do homework if they aren’t sure you’ll notice. If you don’t believe in them for even a moment, they feel that, and they show you that they feel it.

On Friday, I was in a good mood – and perhaps because it was Friday, or because we had just had Thursday off and were going into a long weekend, the day was a dream. One child agreed to make up a song about social studies as his extra credit project, break dancing in my room as he thought up lyrics to the tune of Soulja Boy Crank This. The students made me laugh instead of scream, and about 30 kids came to get lists of the homework that they were missing. They knew how happy it made me, and they loved it – just kept giving me more. And today I was tired and sick, and wanted to go home, and they felt that too – and though it affects them all differently, I’m getting to know them to the point where I know that it does affect them. And I slowly realize that they all care – even the ones who defiantly ignore me, or swear in my face, or walk out of the room when I yell at them – they care. And if they haven’t been taught that they need to care about doing work, getting good grades, and passing the grade – they still care about my mood, what I think, what their friends think. They are highly sensitive in a way that with many of them catches me off guard - and their need to please me shocks me.

“Was I good today?” asks one boy who has slept through every class, refused to do work, and acted completely disinterested in my authority.
“Yes, you were okay, but I know you can to better,” I say, trying to hide my delight that he has taken any interest in my opinion.

“Miss Klein – I did good today, right?” they all ask on their way after class. Often they will ask me if I will call their parents to tell them about their good behavior – which at least is a sign that there are consequences at home of some sort – and those calls are much more fun to make than the ones that I make to talk about bad attitudes and unwillingness to do work, and apparent apathy towards grades.

No matter how hard I try – I find that I can’t really leave myself at home, because they bring it out of me. In their eyes, I see the reflection of my every move, and I see myself more clearly than I ever did when I sat at a computer, analyzing, obsessing, and dwelling on every detail of my own daily existence. Somehow – spending so much time analyzing, obsessing, and dwelling on them has made it easier to see myself.


  1. Hey Laur, I love this one. At school, you can always tell when a teacher is in a bad mood. You couldn't have said it better. They sound like real characters.

  2. Oh Laura, you learned the fundamentals of teaching in such a short time! I think you are made of the stuff that makes great teachers…Don’t get burned, let your body and mind absorb all this attention – that you have to return, at a slower pace-- so you can be a teacher for your whole life, in or out of the class room.

    The day will come – soon –when they tell you: “Miss Klein, you are wearing again that skirt?”

  3. I love this one Laur. It's so true, and cool to see it from a teacher's perspective. Hey, have they seen your toes. I bet they'd find something to say about those babies.