"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Thursday, February 05, 2009


teaching special ed in south central LA is an extremely trying task. (as i type this, i'm thinking, 'that is the understatement of the century!' there are no words in the english language – any language – to describe the anguish and frustration that accompany my job. in fact, those emotions are perhaps better expressed and communicated by the animal kingdom, where the guttural and primitive sounds of pain and distress found in feral animals are more appropriate for my sense of life-threatening anxiety.)

anyway, the point is that my job is difficult. and as with most things potentially stressful or dangerous, one must find ways to adapt, methods and strategies by which to adjust to your surroundings. in the name of survival, you do what you can to change your surroundings, and when your surroundings don't change, you change yourself. adaptation. evolution. selection. you pick and choose what to process, what to act on, you filter your thoughts, you let some things roll off so you can keep rolling on.

my recent environment-induced adaptations have included: reclusiveness, watching TV, eating a lot of ice cream, superstitions, a nagging urge to start smoking, and increased emotional numbing.

the last is the most troubling b/c it is at once the most necessary and the most regrettable. i think that the trouble with the school environment is that it tends to bleach everyone of their humanity. in order to get thru my day, i have to be able to tune out the 1,000+ insults and slurs i hear my students tossing around. i tried at the beginning to reprimand and deliver a lecture for every "stupid" "retarded" "faggot" "homo" "nigger" etc. i heard, but that soon became a herculean task. it would hurt every time i heard such hateful words used, so i had to deaden my sensitivity to such things. if i stopped class every time i heard someone call me or another student a bitch, we would never get through all the standards we need to by May.

adaptation, selection, you pick and choose your battles because there's no time or energy for everything.

it feels strange, but not surprising, to open a science book and see that a student wrote "Fuck you Ms. Lee. You are a chinese bitch" on the plate tectonics vocabulary and not really care, shrug my shoulders, get a black marker pen and cross it out so that the next student doesn't get more excited by the graffiti than the part about the San Andreas fault. if i let it get to me, i wouldn't be ready for the next group of students coming in for their math lesson, and i have to be ready to teach them how to solve a one-step linear algebraic equation.

what bothers me most, however, is that this callousness, this thick skin i grow to get through my day, also prevents me from feeling the gratitude and relief i should feel when, while picking up trash left on the floor, i come across a desk with pencil markings on the tabletop. the graffiti reads, "Ms. Lee is a nice teacher. you should respect her." or the one on the other desk, which says, in big block letters with swirly lines around it, "Ms. Lee: good teacher 4 lyfe." these things should cause me to smile and feel lucky, but i shrug, move the desk back into its row, and wish my kids would stop marking up the furniture.

later, i think back on the day i had: a student accused me of racism, saying, "chinese ppl hate black ppl." another one climbed up on a table and tried to jump out an open window, all for a little attention and the laughs of his peers. 2 students were sent to the dean's office, and i caught another one for ditching class. it's February and i still can't get this class to sit still or be attentive long enough to teach them to multiply decimals and fractions.

if i hadn't grown these emotional callouses, i shudder to think about the emotions i'd be feeling right now.

instead, what i feel: relief that the day is done, and a slight smile in remembering that a certain someone is coming back to visit me today. i'm hoping that some time away will help me remember what it's like to laugh again, and be a kid myself. hopefully this recovers my humanity. hopefully i'm not completely dead yet.

hopefully there is still time to save this vestigial sense of feeling.


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