Special Kind of Crazy

Location: Central Virginia, United States

I'm a mom, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, mentor, cub scout den leader, soccer mom, poet, cook, and avid over-achiever.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Can I See Your ID?

Mary Kate, Mary Kate...so you're getting married. I am sooooo disappointed. Marrying your student. Having babies by your student. Sleeping with your student. SHAMEFUL!!! Plus, he was 12 when you met. I have a better excuse, mine was 18.

OK, so before you run and call Katy Couric, let me explain.

My second year teaching, I was 23. Not to long out of college, 5'2", fairly cute if I can say so myself. I am a high school teacher. By choice. I love it. But there is a downside. I was not only a high school teacher, but I taught seniors. My oldest student was 20 (actually used to see her at the club). Now most teachers view all of their students children, even as their own children. I did...and really still do. Even an attractive student, "Ahh, she is so pretty," or, "He is just so handsome. He is going to make so lucky girl very happy," and so on. Even at my young age, I still viewed my "kids" as "kids"...then there was Kai.

Kai was about 6'3", 200 plus lbs, caramel-colored skin, and a winning smile. All of us agreed, Kai was fine and would be finer at about 26. Never really a second thought about him. Even when he signed up to take my creative writing class, I did not worry about anything. He was just another kid. But the problems did not begin in creative writing; it began when he signed up for my Shakespeare Indy Study course.

Now, if you ever took an Indy Study class, you know that it does not require daily attendance. You get your assignments for the semester and occasionally check in with your teacher. However, Kai started "checking in" everyday. My colleague suggested that I keep my door open when he was there, to be on the safe side (gossip can be deadly). I agreed, especially since we were usually working alone. Everything was going great, until I got wind of my "Christmas gift". His cousin was also a student of mine and happened to mention it to me. As a teacher, I am used to getting gifts. Apples, candles, mugs, candy, the usual. However, the day before Christmas break, Kai arrived with his gifts for me -- a cell phone and a gold watch. Now, there was little question to where Kai got the money; he was a known hustler. Shocked, I politely thanked him and handed them back. He laughed a bit and said that he understood. "Enjoy your break Miss. Maybe we'll run into each other." I was definitely thrown but quickly got over it...It was vacation time.

During the break, my girls and I headed off to the Reggae Club one Friday night. This spot was the hottest, had been for years. Everyone was going to be there. So there I am in my tightest jeans, belly top, the twins slipping out of my shirt, tattoos a-blazin...looking not too shabby. After hitting the bar we went straight for the dance floor. We were jammin. The music was hot; the floor was packed. As I we were busy shakin' our tails, next thing I know, I was joined by someone behind me. My girls gave me the thumbs up (He is fine girl! Get him! Get him!) So I got my grind on. He was feeling great and could move just right! My curiosity was getting the best of me...I turned around.

After I regained consciousness, Kai said (smiling wickedly) "Miss, I couldn't resist it. You were looking so good and you weren't paying attention. And I know if I had asked you would have said no." DUH!!!! Of course I would have said NO!!! All I could imagine was having to explain to a judge and my mother why I was dressed like that and why I was rubbing my ass all over my 18 year old student. I was completely freaked out. To make things worse, as my loyal crew sat down at a table laughing hysterically, Kai capped off my evening of Statutory by saying," I'm sorry if I embarrassed you. But Miss, your ass is amazing. Thanks for letting me get in it." I immediately grabbed my coat and walked out, dizzy. Looking back, I think I was more freaked out by the fact that I had enjoyed most of the situation. Knowing that if I wasn't who I was and if he wasn't who he was, the evening would have been very different.

Now at this point, you may actually be pissed at me. Who cares! No one is offended watching a Desperate Housewife bang her teenage gardener on the dining room table. And Kai and I never went beyond that fateful night. His daily visits became bi-weekly and never lasted beyond 5 minutes. I couldn't even bare to look at him, for fear that I might have begun to drool. June finally came around, and Kai crossed the stage, onto hi new life and far away from me.

Today, I am seeing a younger man…26 years young to be exact. In fact, he is about the same age as Kai. I am not weirded out by that (well, I wasn’t until I just typed it). No, I’m not a Desperate Housewife and no, I’m no Mary Kate. In fact, she pisses me off. A twelve year old! A child is a child! That is ridiculous! Wait, until he is legal…and can buy you a drink.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

And Then There Was Gracia...

I have been teaching for 8 years -- 8 years, 1012 students. It is frightening to think that in this short period of time, I have had an effect, good or bad, on over 1000 lives. "Do you remember Ms. Sankofa?"

"Ahhh yeah, I hated her."
"No doubt, I loved her!"
"She failed me."
"She helped me get into college."
"She got me in sooo much trouble!"
"Her poetry was the bomb!"
"She talked too much."

No matter how you look at it...they'll remember me. Funny thing is, I always remember them. Maybe not their names, but little things: a laugh, a particularly good paper, a joke that left me in tears, their first 'A'...little things. Yet sometimes, there is a child who affects me so profoundly that I can close my eyes and see her face, remember her voice....

Gracia (name changed to protect) was a senior during my first year teaching in Connecticut. I taught in an inner-city school that never up to its infamous reputation. The school was in the middle of the territories of 3 rival gangs. We had 15 on-site security guards and 2 police officers. Yet the students were wonderful. I always laughed when outsiders came to visit out little police state. They were always amazed at how "well-behaved" the kids were, as if they were expecting shoot-outs in the cafeteria and drive-bys in the Driver's Ed lot. Now, mind you, this was no Belaire Academy, but it wasn't Boys in the Hood High either. Our kids struggled, in the classroom and at home. But they tried. Gracia was a student in my Senior Literature class. Being only 23, some of my oldest students were no more than three or four years younger than me. As a young teacher, with high school memories fresh on my mind, I felt that I would be able to relate to my kids easily. Things couldn't have changed that drastically in 6 years, right?

Gracia was an good student, maintaining a 'B' average all year. She was on the girls' swim team and a member of student council. She had an infectious smile and beautiful brown eyes, an attractive girl. She was never late to class and was considered a class leader. Her dedication was evident in everything she did, from her early morning pool laps to her late afternoon peer tutoring sessions. Two weeks before graduation, the school was buzzing. Gracia came by so I could sign her yearbook. I could barely find a space to sign, it was so crammed with "K.I.T." and "We made it!" sentiments. After signing over my face (my picture sucked), I hugged her, told her to be sure to come back and visit. She laughed and commented on how we could go to the clubs together now. As she headed out the door, she simply said, "Thanks Ms. Sankofa. For everything. You have no idea." And she left.

A few days later, right before graduation, the local newspaper published its annual graduation special, featuring stories about local grads from all of the city and county high schools. As I flipped through, I stopped at story about a young BHS grad. "BHS Senior Beats the Odds," it read. As I read, amazed, I kept staring at the pretty, round face of Gracia staring back at me. The article described her life of the past two years. Her mother committed suicide and her father became severely depressed, losing his job and eventually the family home. Gracia, her father and younger sister had spent the past 18 months living in family station wagon. Gracia's early morning swims were a cover-up for her daily showers. Her late afternoon tutoring sessions prolonged the inevitable return "home". Gracia worked in the evenings to help her Dad until he could get back on his feet. All of this, yet she never complained, not once. The article also quoted her father, who had recently gotten a new construction job and finally broke down and moved his family into a shelter. He talked about wanting to die, but seeing Gracia and her sister perservere as they had, gave him a new lease on life. They were his life line.

I saw Gracia one more time that year, at graduation. She walked proudly down the aisle in her white cap and gown. As she crossed the stage, my eyes filled with tears. The entire hall rose to its feet and celebrated with her, this jewel, this heroine.

I sometimes think about Gracia when I hear my kids complain about their various issues, some complaint-worthy, others, not so much. I think about her when I mumble and grumble about having to do some insignificant task. I think about her and I remember her smile, her determination, her strength. And of all the 1012 students I have in some way touched, I am thankful that Gracia touched me.

Peas and Carrots

Monday, February 07, 2005

What Else Can I Do With My Degree?

This is my first blog. It should set the tone, right? If that is the case, then I am one burnt-out teacher. So, there. It's decided. "Special Kind of Crazy" is dedicated to all of the educators in the trenches. Those who love their students, but sometimes wish they would catch mono, just to give us the occasional break. This is my anger management. Like it or love it.

Today was one of those days that I had to ask myself, "What
else can I do with an English degree?" I hate Mondays. Most people do
I suppose, but teachers hate it passionately. Why? Because kids are
crack babies. Now I know that that is not politically correct. I know
as an african american woman, a mother, an educator, I should be more sensitive to the needs and issues of our children. But for real, they're crack babies. After a day of seeing 100+ kids within 5 1/2 hours, I find myself screaming inside..."Shut the FUCK UP!!!!" Now, it is not healthy for anyone to hold that much anger in, especially those working with children. But how hard is it to just sit and write for 35 minutes? How hard is it to not talk when someone says "Don't talk." How friggin' difficult is it to go to school and just work!!! Now I know some right and correct person may be angry and say that I am not taking into consideration the
child's home life and that school is harder for some than for others and...yeah yeah yeah. I know all of that. I also know that if he spends one day in a typical classroom, that same right and correct person will say by the end of the day, "Shut the FUCK UP!!!"

I have been out of high school for over 13 years. Now in real time, that doesn't seem like anything at all. But according to my students, there is no real difference between 1991 and 1891. I hate to admit how right they are. But lets' face it...what a difference a decade makes. I clearly remember going to school and being terrified that my teacher would catch me passing notes. Falling asleep in class was a trip to the office and cursing was out of the question, at least in front of an adult.

Today, a child (not one of mine) walked passed my classroom while another teacher and I were on hall duty and yelled jokingly at a her friend, "You betta give me back my mother fucking shoes bitch! Sheee-it!" There was no way on God's green earth that she did not see us, two short, chubby teachers holding down the D-Block corner (D-Block, wha wha! Gotta rep my set.) However, it did not cross this child's mind that her mouth was so far out of order that I could have legally placed her under citizen's arrest. Of course, we had to write her up. But that did not bother her one bit. One of my students asked me, "Ms. Sankofa, why can't we cuss? What's the big deal?" I simply explained, "Because you are going to need to get a job after this and I refuse to send you out into the world without the ability to control your language. Besides, if I can't cuss you out, then so goes the same for you."

I have to hold it together. But listen, if you turn on the news and see that a Virginia teacher was arrested for viciously tongue-lashing 315 students, and this blog seems to no longer be...then you know that I finally snapped. Don't be surprised though...you've been warned.

Peas and Carrots