Even if Only for One Night, Everyone Deserves a Fairy Tale

Good or bad, I am a teacher.  While the world has set opinions about what I do for a living and who I impact and on what level, I know the value and the worth of what I do.  While many days don’t work out the way that I plan for them to, I am able to go to bed at night knowing that someone was impacted, or at least comforted or included, by the fact that I was in my rightful place in the tiny world I command.

Many days I feel blessed by the presence of those around me.  My students are AMAZING human beings.  It is my privilege to lead them, or to be led by them.  They have their issues—what teen doesn’t– but through it all, they come back swinging.  They are resilient.  They are compassionate.  They are strong.

While there may be many posts about the stress, struggle, and grind of my daily job, this is not one of them.  This is a note of praise.  As I sit, watching my first block class test, I am amazed and grateful for the small community I work in, for the way many of our parents have raised their kids, and for the blessing of a truly awesome senior class.

I am AWED by them.

Today is Monday.  By all accounts, most Mondays are filled with grumbles (often from me), yawns (from all of us), and requests that we not do anything difficult (from them).  Through the course of the semester I hear their pleas often, and I ignore them in hopes that we will find our groove as we wade through the words of Chaucer and Shakespeare, trudge through more lessons on how to write with intelligence and purpose, and strive to understand the correlation between peoples and their written word throughout history.  This Monday is no different for many of them… but for me, I am moved to write so that the world knows of the kind hearts and considerate spirits that surround me.

On this Monday, I admit that teenagers are often self-indulgent.  Often they are sarcastic and crass.  But they have also been given a bad rap.  My seniors show me what I wish my graduating class had been.  They show me how much has changed in the decade and a half since I sat in their place.  They show me how the world has become so much more understanding and inclusive.  This Monday, they show me that we are all the same…

And this revelation all started at prom.

While most girls are concerned about their hair, their nails, and (OH MY GOODNESS!) their dress, and the boys want to look suave in their rented garb while driving their freshly washed cars and jacked-up trucks (I do live in rural Virginia after all), this year there were some other thoughts along the way.  There was a lot of deliberation among some about who their dates should be, some stress between patents and teens about possibly non-traditional choices, and some gossip about who was going with who, despite the fact that they had recently been spotted with someone else.  But there were also three couples who quietly came to the dance in a way that was both normal and extraordinary at the same time.  There was little said about them, but their presence may have changed the way I look at them forever.

We all know what the prom court typically looks like.  Filled with the most beautiful or most popular, they are the ones who are expected to win.  Often they inspire admiration, or jealousy, and often there is a quiet battle waged in hushed tones, or blasted across social media, about who should be crowned on prom night and who should not.  A few years ago, our school changed it up a bit and decided that the teachers would submit the nominations; the student body would narrow the list and vote in the reigning couples.  It took a few years for the kids to fully jump aboard this new trend, but this year they fully embraced it.  They took pride in it, and they used it to make sure that some amazing young ladies, who are often set apart from the student body because of their educational needs, had the times of their lives.

How I wish I could show them to you, because they were exceptional in their beauty and their joy.  While they may often go unnoticed, on Saturday they took center stage.  Ironically, they all wore red- a color that I have never had the self-confidence to wear.  It is the experiences that they were given that makes me love our kids for their spirit and their hearts.

Young lady number one, because I am at a loss for a creative way to distinguish these amazing young women without blowing their cover, has taken self-contained SPED classes throughout her days in our school system and is also plagued by significant health problems.  She was nominated and named as one of the candidates for prom queen.  While in some situations this would seem like a recipe for disaster, our students were behind her and worried that she would not be able to attend.  They voted for her, they hoped for her, and they cheered for her as she took the stage.  Her brother, always at her side to protect her while making sure she had the prom experience that every girl desires (complete with date-in-tux and not adult-aid-in-tow), gave her distance as she stood before the crowd.  While she did not win, she was radiant.

Young lady number two, who smiles constantly but has difficulty communicating, has also spent most of her educational career apart from the masses, but she is friends with all.  Her grin is infectious!  Looking every bit the princess, she was called to stand at the front with all the nominees.  As her name was announced as Junior class Princess, there were squeals and cheers of delight.  As the prince escorted her to the dance floor, the cheers continued.  The prince danced with her as she beamed.  The king shared a fist-bump, and halfway through the dance, the queen grouped them all together for a four person group mingle to the fast paced music that was played but the d.j.  Our princess smiled continuously and had the time of her life.

Perhaps it is young lady number four that makes me the most proud.  It was not until this sleepy Monday morning that I saw pictures of her in her glory and realized that one of the nominees for king had asked her, his life-long friend, to accompany him as his plus-one.  They dined together with friends, danced together, and had formal pictures taken together and with their friends.  While he did not win a crown on Saturday, he won my gratitude and respect.  He could have chosen a more popular date, but he made a young lady who often goes unnoticed and takes many of her classes in small groups feel like a princess among the masses.

These are our kids.

They have been raised well.  They are considerate, compassionate, and kind.  They see beyond disabilities and look for opportunities to make others feel included.

While some days may be a struggle, not a day goes by that I am not proud of where I teach and who I teach.  They understand that small things are sometimes the most important.  And they know that everyone deserves to have their fairy tale, at least for a little while.

They are my heros.

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Pardon me While I try to Enjoy my Meal

It’s small, crowded, and often noisy late at nights, but one tiny restaurant in my home town is unlike any other I’ve ever been to.  Filled to bursting with Hollywood memorabilia from days long gone by, it has borne witness to celebrations of personal milestones, both great and small, and overheard conversations that I can’t even remember.  Its bustling aisles were the scene a first date that turned into a marriage (I always comment when we pass the table where we ate), and my husband and I visited it at least once a week for years after our wedding.  It’s just that kind of place.

By the time our first child was born we were visiting less frequently, but it was still a great place to be.  We avoided the crowds on Halloween and St. Pats, and we knew that weekends meant longer waits for tables and we understood that the months when college kids filled the booths were also not ideal.  But the comforting familiarity and moderate noise level made us feel it was a great place to take a toddler whose table manners had not yet evolved to the point of eating in many other sit-down restaurants.

It holds a piece of my heart.

Or it did…

Several years ago progress came and change occurred.  Much of what made it a cool place to be was taken off the walls.  The pictures and artifacts were replaced with flat screen televisions, displaying the news and the action of any game occurring in real time.  It got louder.  But still we went.

There’s a table in the corner, the big, round one that used to hold all of my high school and college friends.  It’s now the site of dinners with one of my best friends and her family.  All of our kids, hers and mine, can fit around this table where we gather when our calendars allows us to meet on a Tuesday night (because that is when kids eat free).  Here we make new memories.  Even without the pictures and the autographs, we make due with the television that hangs over us, deal with the other patrons staring over our heads at the game instead of at the dates they came to eat with, and enjoy our food and conversation.  Usually…

Then came the night of great miscalculation.

Without thinking about the sports schedule that I skip over in the guide on my personal television, my family packed into our round table in the corner, under the offending flat screen, to celebrate the last night that our out-of-state friend would be staying with us.  It was a Tuedsay, and we had always made the pilgrimage to this particular sandwich shop when she was in town.  As we gathered my three children, well behaved and hungry, into their seats, I noticed that things seemed a little more unsettled that usual.  Think of it as a second mommy sense.  Something was just a little off.

We placed our orders, received our drinks, and enjoyed our conversation over the louder than normal din of other voices as we watched the kids color the jungle scene on their paper menus.  And then it happened.  Directly to my left, at the table beside us and directly behind one of my twins, a college kid with a sloshing beer stood to full height and let out an ear piercing bellow… over the head of one of my children.  She looked terrified, his date looked annoyed, and I’m sure I looked pissed.

Angrily looking for the source of his frustration, I saw in brilliant color what was the end to my enjoyable evening… The World Cup.

Admittedly, I did bring my children to eat in a restaurant, alas, that is filled with televisions on a night that I should have avoided.  However, as our meal arrived he grew louder and louder.  He moaned each time the opposing team, who even knows which one, scored a goal, and screamed in jubilation when his team made a good shot.  My six year-old attempted to join in with his behavior, for which she was quietly reprimanded.  After all, we were in a restaurant and not a sports bar (where I never would have taken my kids), or a barn for that matter.  She was upset, of course, because she wanted to act like the grown man-child was acting.  The twins grew more and more uncertain of their surroundings, this making it hard for them to eat, and the overgrown ape’s poor date slid a little farther into her seat each time his vociferous cries erupted.

I began to shoot daggers from my eyes as my husband looked around for our waiter to voice a complaint.  We found him.  He was standing beside the now purple man, who at this point was standing in the aisle beside his table, discussing the game.  (I assume it takes too much energy to continue jumping up and down every time a player does something interesting.)  This went on for fifteen minutes.

Finally the couple left.  Apparently the date had announced that she was leaving, with or without him, so he chose to go.  By that point, we were waiting for our check, which the waiter had to go find because he had forgotten we were one of his tables.

As we left, bellies full of poorly digesting food, I was left to ponder the following:  Why were my small children better behaved than an adult, and how are we, as parents, expected to teach our kids how to be respectful and kind when the people they see around them often can’t do it?  Why does becoming more modern often kill all that is good about a tradition?  And why should I have to ask to be allowed to enjoy a meal that I am paying for?  Pardon me, but I’d like to enjoy my indulgence and one of my few nights out of the house with my, for once, well behaved children, my husband, and a life-long friend.

We haven’t been back since…

Big Fish/Small Pond: Student Entitlement

Eleven years in, there are still some things that just floor me. Looking at the general population of students at the small school where I teach, from the bottom of my heart, I know that they are good humans. They will grow and mature, become vital members of our community, and someday raise families of their own. There are some, however small that minority, who are so assured of their status in this world.

They make me cringe.

My filter, which is always worn thin by this point in the school years, has great difficulty not reminding them of who they are and where they are (and sometimes where they come from). I manage to refrain.

When, oh when, did we- a civilized group of human beings- start raising a group of children who are so lost in their own expectations of entitlement that they forget to see the value of work and sacrifice, or even determination?

Why do they assume that they get to roam the halls just because they feel like it? In groups of seven or eight? For thirty minutes at a time?

Why do they get to use the bathroom in another building just because they don’t “like” the one only a few feet away from my classroom door? When did their trips start involving being gone for twenty minutes or more, and what do they think they need to do with a cell phone while they are there? When did the expectation become that teachers are to be ok with this? Teachers, who are lucky to get a two minute bathroom break, are expected to sacrifice the content and context of a lesson so that students can take good care of their colon and their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snap Chat account.

When did it become an assumption that deadlines don’t matter? Work can be turned in at random, partially completed, and we are expected to simply put a check on it, log in a perfect score, and return it without complaint.

Who made the rule that only certain students need to monopolize classroom discussions, as if their peers have nothing else to say? Or that they should determine the topic of said discussions? And the duration, volume, and intensity?

Why is it assumed that I will award extra credit for being a good student, or following the rules, or being a human being?

Most importantly, what will become of these individuals who suffer from big fish/small pond syndrome when we are no longer around to support their delusions?

And then… The Stapler Became a Whale

Some days just don’t go the way you expect them to. That’s probably true of every profession, but when you deal with the hormones and attitudes of hundreds, teens no less, there never really is a norm. Add in a student who passed (just barely, but it still counts) a test needed for graduation while another failed by one question and you get two girls in the same hallway, one bouncing on the balls of her feet and squealing while the other stands, looking at you for guidance, with tears streaming down her face.

Oh, how did I become the one they look to for all the answers… I feel so…

Toss in my seniors, who are so ready to be done with school that even a cut and glue project reduces them to sniveling toddlers. Their conversations, not quiet in the least, are unbelievable and reduce me to a fit of laughter…

Remember, Fulcher, YOU are the teacher.

Breathe…

Regain your composure…

And then I see it. The stapler, a cheap piece of plastic that usually doesn’t even catch my eye, is a whale! Not metaphorically. Not symbolically. One of my mature, ready to graduate and take the world by storm, seniors has drawn an eye on either side and positioned it so that it cannot help but stare at me.

I am Jonah.

I have been swallowed completely and all that is left to do is remain calm and wait for graduation. Oh, how I do hope it comes soon!