A couple of weeks ago, Mr. M and I went to a baseball game of 2 of our students. They had told us how good they were, and begged him to go. On a Sunday morning, him, my sister, and myself all piled into the car to drive to the Bronx and watch 12 year olds play baseball.
Upon arriving, one student saw us and shouted happily to the other, “Yo – Mr. M is here!” We stayed for a short while, and watched them both get hits and field the ball several times. At one point the coach made one of them do push-ups, and the other boy turned and smiled gleefully at us, to make sure we were watching. We left before the game was over, but were glad we had come.
The stands were empty. It took me until almost the end of the game to notice it, but it did seem strange. One of the ways to differentiate between games and practices when you are a little kid was always the audience who showed up for games. Parents make friends with the other parents of kids on your teams, and every week some mom brings a snack. Parents yell from the sidelines, cheering their kids on, and are there until the end of the game, when they can take them home. At this game, there were zero parents in the stands.
It struck me then, how important it must have been for our students to have us say we were coming and actually show up. It’s easy to forget where the kids come from, and how challenging their lives are, and then little things like this will creep up on you. One week a student comes in covered with bedbug bites, and reveals that he is now living in a shelter. Another week a student is out and when they return they tell you they were at their mothers funeral; the guidance counselor whispers that the mother was a drug addict, or died of AIDS. There are so many huge challenges that the students face, and tragedies that they encounter, that you overlook the small injustices that infest their lives. A team of 12 year olds, filled with pride about their baseball skills, play for an audience of one another. Their parents are probably working hourly jobs, or are at home with other kids, and it’s a fact that they don’t question or resent. But from the outside looking in, it’s striking.
It was good I went to that game, because for me it really made me realize how important the intangibles of teaching are. You can’t measure the impact of showing up every day and following through on the things you say you will do. You can’t measure the importance of structure and stability in the lives of these kids. You don’t set a measurable goal about how safe kids feel at school, and how much they trust you. And yet, those are the real successes that are defining my first year as an untrained and under-qualified teacher. Those are the reasons that I can convince myself to come back.