Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Alia/Rob: Mentor

Yeesh. If it weren't for the walking reminder of my physical state, I might forget this blog exists.

Call it self-censorship. I don't live a terribly interesting life. Cliff doesn't either, but she's at least willing/able to air her grievances/thoughts on her body, on her life. I get home after a long day at work and just zonk out.

Stress stress stress stress stressstressstress.

For a long while, it was just overwhelming. I wanted to find some quiet corner of the school and cry (manly tears) over how overwhelmed I was. But generally speaking it is not recommended that teachers lose control of their emotions in front of students. So I bottle it all up.

It's hard, man. Let's not kid ourselves here, this is a stressful job. I remember when I was in high school, the feeling of how overwhelming the pressure was, my quiet suspicion that nothing I was doing would affect me in the long term so long as I got into a decent University (I did.) These kids walking around the halls, half of them have the same parental issues as I did, some way worse. Some don't even talk to theirs, for better or worse. I certainly don't know all their stories, but you get to know who's having trouble.

Oh, you get to know things. The way hormones rule this hallway is palpable, to say the least. Monday morning comes and you can tell which ones had a bad weekend. Every little romantic gesture is scrutinized and agonized over. Students' moods and behaviours change on a regular basis, especially the girls. I've chaperoned a couple dances (I'm on duty for one more this week as a matter of fact) and seeing the way these kids attempt to free themselves from their own awkwardness - with varying degrees of success - well, it takes me back.

That's not to say the teachers are immune to this. We gossip, we make cliques, we have in-jokes. In some really sad ways, we emulate the behaviour of the kids for whom we're supposed to set the example. The sex lives of unmarried teachers (like myself and Cathy) are scrutinized by the older ladies teaching English, Geography and History. We all indulge in inappropriate speculations about the kids. It becomes like a weird little soap opera for some of these people.

Some, however, don't seem to care. This is Marshall McPhee, the senior English teacher. Earlier this year, when the Vice Principal was on my ass about my lackluster in-class performance, Mr. McPhee stood up for me, and even became a mentor of sorts. He's the kind of teacher who's been at it for 25 years, and still gets out of bed in the morning, glad to be teaching, where so many of these people have had their spirits ground down. He's a friendly, balding, thin, bearded sort with John Lennon glasses and a button-up vest.

"Rob," he says to me after school one day, "It's our job to positively impact these kids' lives. We may be here for the long term, but they aren't, and it's our responsibility to see them them through that. We only get a few years to do anything for these kids, and even then it's just a sliver of time. And then they're gone. You've got to be strong. You've got to know your stuff, and you've got to be there for them." I'm paraphrasing, of course: This was months ago. But the feeling stuck with me.

There was this girl who, at the beginning of the semester, was having relationship trouble. That much was true. She showed promise, but also distraction. I knew a lot of girls like that in high school -- hell, I envied them, I was never the one who had the boys' attention, until Todd -- and I know it would've been hard for me to take any teacher's advice seriously (especially a male one) but I did what I could.

Basically, what it amounted to was taking her aside after class and assuring her of the potential I saw in her, and reminding her that things were probably going on in her life that felt the most important, but wouldn't seem so relevant down the road. And showing her perceptiveness, she rebuffed, "And all the classes ARE?"

I told her, "At this point, you're learning more about how to be a person than you are about books. We give you assignments and work not only to teach you their lessons, but how to learn, how to work, full stop. Having a life is important, but what's really important is to learn to balance it all, because believe me, it's never going to stop. There will still be boys, if you don't run off every weekend to hang out with them, and instead keep up on your readings."

And she laughed at this, but a little later when we started doing poetry, she was the only one to have anything memorized, and her insights were quite strong as well. She did a report on Sylvia Plath, which was a sort of "Oh God what have I done" moment (I kid, Plath-lovers.) Was it University-level? Of course not. But she's only a sophomore in high school.

Anyway, the balance-talk worked on both ends because I started dealing with school-related issues a little better, even taking a few extra assignments just to hone my abilities. It's still not my dream job, but I'm getting better at it. And like high school, my time here is limited, and in fact coming to an end sooner than later.

Anyway. It's late, and as always I have an early morning tomorrow. Todd sent me this album by this new Canadian band, Zeus. He loves it, but I think it's a little weak until the midway point gem, "Marching Through Your Head," and then there are some lovely tracks after that, such as "The Sound of You" and "At The Risk Of Repeating," which all makes me yearn for home.

I made him promise not to send me the new Broken Social Scene album. I don't want to hear that until I'm a girl again.

-Alia

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