They stole my sharpies. Another teacher had given me an 8 pack of jumbo sharpies, and visions of posters, and all star lists, and other fabulous activities danced in my head al weekend as I thought about those wonderful markers. Things like markers and tape are hard to come by and can be game changers in a classroom. I often get to fifth period and find that I don’t even have a pen, so other school supplies – staplers, scissors, markers and tape – are truly precious.
I missed a day of school, and when I returned my desk had been raided. The sharpies were gone, and the little thieves left the empty plastic package behind as a reminder of what I has almost had. Of course I questioned everyone. I grilled them on who had done it, and stalked my most likely suspects to the lunchroom, pulling them out into the hall to demand that they return them. I was a woman possessed.
Later that day, one boy took the tape off of my desk and used it to handcuff another student to his desk. It was not the right day to mess with my possessions.
“How dare you take something off of my desk? Have you no respect for other people’s things?!” I made the somewhat ill-advised decision to make an example of this boy, taking my chiding of him too far. I felt myself becoming ridiculous. It is, after all, just tape. And yet it felt bigger than tape. It felt, as so many misbehaviors feel, like a direct attack, direct defiance, direct disrespect.
Later I found out that this boy had been arrested over the weekend for jumping a subway turnstile in an attempt to chase down and knife someone. It goes without saying that he felt that I was overreacting.
I try to choose my battles. I give up some things in order to get others, and I know my students well enough to know which ones respond well to being yelled at, and which ones just want you to say ‘please’ when you ask them to do something. There is disrespect, and defiance, and rudeness, in a million ways every day – and it is often bigger than sharpies or a roll of tape. Perhaps it was just because this manifestation of those things was easy to attack – so concrete and direct. I went home furious – both at the students and at myself.
It isn’t rare to end a day in disbelief. How is it possible that students treat a teacher – an adult – another human being – in such a way? It is so easy to forget the good – to come home and write about the bad, and to tell funny stories about the things that they couldn’t have possibly really done – until they did.
And then, you have to forgive them. Every night – really every day at 3:30 – I have to fogive them. I have to leave school and let go of how annoyed I am at them, or how rude someone was in 8th period. I have to forgive them, and greet them with a big smile the next day, letting them know that with me they can always prove themselves, improve themselves, dig themselves out of whatever ditch they have dug. It’s exhausting to be angry – no doubt. Exhausting to hold on to resentments and arguments and injustices. But it’s very difficult to forgive – especially when the violators are not asking for forgiveness or admitting wrongdoing. And yet – it isn’t optional. It’s a part of my job. I have to forgive them, and treat them as well as I ever have.
And every time I need a marker, and I know that if I only had one I could really make a great poster and teach a great lesson, and no these other ones I bought aren’t as good – I have to remind myself to forgive.