I had a dream this morning from which I begrudgingly awoke. In fact, I’m not sure I woke up from it at all – it was one of those dreams that stay with you for a long time and actually changes you. It was one of those dreams that you hope to have again very soon to see if new events unfold – like a drama on television that you just can’t seem to get enough of. Only, this dream was “mine”. It was about me. It revealed things in me that I had buried. It piqued my curiousity and disrupted my thinking.
I was teaching again.
I was back in the classroom.
With “badass” kids whose lives were set on a self-indulgent, anti-societal path at a young age. So, in fact, they were only “badass” to society – not to me. To me, they were wonderful. They were inspiring. They were in dire need of a mother or a father or a cheer-leader. And that – in my dream – was me.
I can remember each student that was in my dream. I forget the order in which they appeared to me, but I do remember each one of them. It was my first day of school when I encountered the space in which I was asked to teach French: a hallway. It was a shared hallway with the Spanish class. Not one of my students seemed to be gathered together to form the “French community”. They were scattered and so I requested they come closer as I couldn’t raise my voice. They did. I knew I had already scored a point with them – at least they were curious enough to comply with my request. The class didn’t last long as I tracked each one of them out of the class and into their issue(s). Afterall, remember it was a dream.
One young woman, a beautiful young girl, explained to me that she wasn’t smart enough to learn French. For some reason I knew she played hardball with others. I explained to her that I knew she was smart enough. “Why, miss? How do you know?”
“Because you are badass. And you have to be smart to be good at being a badass.” I had disrupted her thinking. I may not have prepped her for French as much as I had prepped her for life.
“Do you know what it’s like to have nothing, miss?” asked another student I had chased out of the class, down the hall and into a back closet where, by the way, I found him wrapping gifts he had stolen from others to give to his family. This young lad was one of “eleven”. And those of you who know me, know how much that number makes me giggle – that Youtube clip always comes to mind where the two young Scottish lads are trying to operate a voice activated elevator. Back to the boy. I explained to him that I had taught so many students who had “nothing” growing up and how they had overcome such great obstacles to make their lives significant. I named a few: Adam, Stephanie, Carlie, Megan, Chris… of sooooo very many students I had come to know and respect. After I had spoken, this young fellow looked at me with a look that told me I had disrupted his thinking. I hadn’t taught him French, but I had already begun to help him change his life.
The one student that really stuck out for me was a very good looking young man who had used sex as his tool to avoid school and learning. When he tried to accost me, I explained to him that he couldn’t. “I have stage 4 ovarian cancer and have had so much of me already removed, he couldn’t take anything else from me.” I remember the look as he left me alone to go to a quiet place and think. He looked at me and smiled. I knew I had disrupted his thinking. I knew he would learn from me and the lesson would change his life.
Another young woman had been nearly suffocated by her friends when a marquee tent had fallen on her (by accident?) and she was left to fend for herself. I understood her anxieties and fears. I talked about my own. And how fears are not meant to control you, but to disrupt the way you think and set you on a different course. She looked at me.
A young man had been trapped in a cage in the flat-bed of a truck – by his friends. I called out his friends on him when I found them in the school. I was not afraid of them. I had nothing to lose by teaching them about life and the difference between right and wrong. They were not happy with me – but they stopped chirping at me.
I encountered a teacher whose tactics were those of a dictator. He made the Hile Hitler gesture to his students and they responded back. I called the teacher out on his gesture. He was furious with me as were his students. I explained to him how wrong he was to conduct himself in such a nature – I took it to the Human Rights representative of the school who smiled at me. I didn’t know what that look meant, until the teacher came to try to intimidate me, fool me into thinking he was naive and didn’t know how “bad” his behaviour was. I called him out on his nonsense. I was not afraid.
And it carried on – that dream. In no circumstance was I afraid. I knew I was disturbing the bee’s nest of which was the school, but I knew that in this school – with all these students – there was honey. They were good. They just needed to know it. I knew that was my job.
As I left the school that night, I looked up into a place that must have been the central meeting area – it seemed like a residential school. Students were gathered there – I could see through the window. I heard my name. I knew they were talking about me. I knew I had disrupted them. Some were angry, some were confused, some were defending me, questioning me.
I was not afraid, rather, excited to get back to the school the next day and to finish what I had started. I wanted to help them to believe in themselves and to believe the world could be a better place with them in it. They were capable of doing great things – good things – beautiful things.
I wanted to teach.
I want to teach.
I am not a French teacher. I am not an English teacher. I never did teach geography, math, or history. I taught about life. I taught about self-worth. I taught my students to be positive and to be great. I taught them to believe in themselves. At least – that was my goal – cloaked in curriculum so they thought they were learning about academics.
I know I disrupted their lives. I hope it was in a good way. I hope I made a difference.
I hope, one day, to be able to teach in the classroom again. I miss it. I miss my students. For as much as I taught, I learned. As arrogant as I was, I was humbled. As confident as I thought I had been, they shook my foundations. I am a better person for having taught. For having taught, I learned it is better to live with some disruption than to be sedated by routine. The best lessons are learned when they are not expected.
This lesson, the one buried in my dream, caught me by surprise!