Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Don't Move!: A Lesson on Sitting Still and Learning

A nudge on the shoulder. A punch in the rib. A slap on the thigh. A quick and light tapping on the screen of a cell phone. A pull on the ponytail. A turning of the head to acknowledge the opening of a door. A crushing of the empty candy wrapper found at the bottom of the bag. A whisper in the ear. A flicker of a dimple on a little face. A raise of the left eyebrow.

Just a regular movement of the human body can make any instructor of the hormone infested things that society has the audacity to innocently call teenagers, makes my nostrils flare and forehead sink into my brain. If I were a superhero, a button would be implanted into my left forearm. With one push, their bodies would freeze except for the blinking eyes and the blood that flows through their veins and the beating of their hearts. They'd be absolutely still until I finished the instructions to the capture the flag game that we were about to play.

Then I'd unfreeze them and take the questions which flood their little brains and answer them with nothing but "honeys" tagged at the end for affection.

I love the children I work with. And it's the typical thing to say for a person working a job which underpays you, but there is no other word to express the emotion. At best, insanity comes close. My job is to give each child a clean slate, mistake after mistake. I forgive them for yelling in my face for making a bad call in basketball and pick the lint out of their head before another child can tease them about it. I cheer for them even when they've shot the ball in the wrong basket. After all, their form looked exactly how we had practiced it. I tell them I'll miss them when they walk out the door at 6 p.m., even as I count down the hours until I get home, sit on my couch, slide into my bed, and walk back into that place to greet them.

14 hours.

And for more than half of those waking hours away from my students, I think about each moment we spent together. If I truly believe that everything in life is a lesson, I have to believe that these children are my teachers. While I stand at the front of the room, commanding (begging) for their attention, I know that I am the one who is without the power. I am thankful for the babies (the 13 year olds) who allow me to witness all of their mistakes and give me an opportunity to help work through them.

Each day, in a cold gym, the entire camp of children stop all of their socializing and sports playing to read for thirty minutes. Silent reading. A scoreboard counts down the seconds, staff hover their eyes above the pages of their own books to yell to children across the room, "Hey! That corner! Keep reading!"

On one specific, but nondescript day, I asked one of the boys to take a seat outside of the gym and finish his reading there for being disruptive. He cussed me out (without the curses), sucked his teeth, rolled his eyes, and huffed and puffed his chest out in anger.

He took the "I'm in trouble" seat by the desk and finished his reading.

An hour later, his lips flapped in my direction, exposing his braces, which he manages to keep cleaner than I ever did, and says, "I am sorry I spoke to you in that way. I was upset, but I shouldn't have gone off on you like that. I'm sorry."

My heels dug into the floor to keep from falling. The outburst, typical. The apology, miraculous. I'd give up any chance of having freezing superpowers for that one act, one time, on one summer day, by one child. The young people I work with teach me the honor in humility. Each day we ask them to set aside their egos (read: their humanity) and to expose their weaknesses in the name of learning a "life lesson." We ask them to look us in our eyes as we scold them and to take these moments of concession as opportunities for growth.

But how often do we as adults do this? For me, not nearly enough. The opportunity to be in the company of those who are by design powerless is a chance to incorporate new habits into my life. As I teach the simple act of sitting still, the lessons of graciousness and letting go of my pride and ego are passed onto me by the unsanitary hands that slap against mine at the end of each long day at good ol' summer camp.

This is all to say, at this moment on this nondescript evening at a cafe, I know that although this may not be the perfect job, it's giving me exactly what I need. For now.

1 comment:

  1. " I know that this is not the perfect job...but it's giving me what I need...for now" Me too Amelia!