In the Middle

They come into two classes to tell them the (what I think will be simple) news: they will have a new English teacher next semester, and it won’t be me. The AP describes it in her usual convoluted fashion: “We are growing as a school, and we need your teacher’s skills to teach another class, and you’re going to have a different teacher.”

Z shouts out (as always–no one scares him)–“Wait. So we have the teacher with the best skills and you’re going to give us the teacher with the least?”

She begrudgingly looks at me: “Is that what I just said?”

But I know what he means. I speak his outspoken language.

Another student: “But I like this small class. It’s safe.”

Another: Tears. No words.

Another (different class): “I ain’t doin’ it. I’m still coming here fourth period. Try and stop me.”

AP (to me): “Isn’t it great to be loved?”

And I think, these are the same kids I threw under the bus the other day for not showing up on the “NOT” snow day. These are the kids I was jumping up and down about saying goodbye to because I want to teach immigrants, kids who really care, who are fully invested in wanting to be in my classroom every day. On time. Ready to learn.

And I feel a mix of joy and hatred all in the same moment.

And I think about these things, these fourteen-year-old faces running across my mind as I begin my Thanksgiving break. As I drive the carpool kids home and drop my girls off at piano and put frozen pizza (my Friday cop-out meal) in the oven and cross stitch and listen to my Spanish book and wait until the optimal moment before venturing out into the snow back into my old neighborhood.

I am saying goodbye to these green walls and these three girls and all the kids who have come in and out of my classroom for fifteen years to drive into richville and pretend like I’m someone else.

It is just what I thought and nothing like I thought. One block away from where I grew up, a 1940s war home that (amazingly) hasn’t been torn down… just doubled in size on the backside, granite counters and a peak-through kitchen from the living to dining to family room to breakfast nook. The hostess is a jubilant extroverted redhead with children who are driving up with their father to ski training for a week. She proudly shows us the brownies and fudge they made, the doggie bandanna (“bark scarves”) business her children have developed (web site and all), describes the destruction and reconstruction of her “starter-turned-family” home.

And I make the mistake of telling all the blond and blue-eyed businesswomen-doctor-lawyer-private-school-till-now moms that I teach. At the local high school.

And they want the good. The bad. The ugly.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on it for years.”

“I even hosted a German exchange student a couple years ago to see how it was (and I wasn’t impressed).”

“I heard the principal is leaving.”

“I heard that there’s no accountability.”

“I heard they have a great football team.”

And there I stand. In the middle. I’m not going to lie. And I’m not really going to satisfy their curiosity either. And I’m not going to go home to a mansion. And send my kids to a ski team training. Or use Uber because “it’s better than driving.” I’m not going to be a “CEO recruiter” and tear down half a house because the one I bought wasn’t good enough. I’m not going to find some German kid to “test out the local high school” for me.

And I’m not going to lie.

“It’s apathetic.”

“The administration is mediocre at best.”

“The kids don’t do their homework.”

Everything they want to know. And don’t want to know.

Because I’m in the middle. I am a teacher and a mother. And I constantly ask myself: What is best for my kids? (MY kids.) And: What is best for my kids (THEIR kids). And the answers almost never match up.

Because that kid who cried in my class today told me his story about his mom beating the shit out of him. About social services ripping him away from her broken-bottle alcoholic rants. About the safe haven with grandparents in New Mexico. About how fucking scared he is every time he steps out of his Denver home because his mom lives SOMEWHERE IN THIS STATE.

And he doesn’t want to tell it again.

Because that kid who said he likes the small class can’t quite do work when “he’s going through some emotional tough shit, Miss,” and I let him have extra time.

Because that kid who said, “I ain’t gonna do it” has lingered into lunch on five occasions, emptying my wallet for a few bucks to have a meal.

Because I can’t lie. And I can’t tell the truth. And I can’t be a CEO recruiter who could never understand why a day filled with luncheons and a flexible schedule will never be my day. I can’t fit in with the blond-and-blue-eyed bitches just as well as I can’t fit my kids in with kids who won’t do their fucking homework (and yet I love them anyway).

There is no middle ground. There is no balance to what I face every day (tears and joy, tears and joy) and what I want my kids to see (apathy mixed with perseverance???).

And there is no way in hell a single one of these women would understand where I’m coming from anyway.

So why am I here? Why am I asking these questions?

I put my coat on and the hostess begins a story about running out of gas at the top of a pass on the way to a camping trip and coasting down the mountain into the only gas station in town.

I tell my story of driving 5000 miles in a Prius and running out gas in a no-cell-phone range and putting on my bike helmet and riding my bike down I-70 for six miles at 21:30 and my husband guarding the three kids in the back seat.

“I like your story better,” she admits as she walks me to the door. “I think I might steal it and call it my own.”

She’d be just like those other teachers who Z thinks “don’t have the skills” to teach him. Just like my kids who I can’t quite fit in to this frenzied life of private schools and ski team training.

Just like me. Stuck in the middle, good story in hand, just not quite the right place to publish it.

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