It's Friday night and I'm finally going to get a full night's sleep. All I can really say about these past two weeks is that I've survived. That's all. I have simply survived. Everything inside of me wants to quit and walk away. When kids are mocking me or fighting in the hallways, I think, "I don't need this _____" and I want to just walk out the door. I want to leave WITH ALL THAT IS INSIDE OF ME. However, there is Someone else inside of me, spurring me on. I can't walk out on what God has called me to do. And as one of just three male teacher in this school, I don't want to be like almost every other male in almost every student's life and just walk out. Honestly, the desire to not walk out on these kids is the ONLY thing keeping me here. I have NO IDEA how I'll EVER teach anything.
I have seen things these past two weeks that I can't even begin to explain. I can't believe that the richest nation in the history of the world can allow their kids to be in a system like what I'm seeing. Dear God, how can we treat our poor in this way?
Of the past 14 days, I have only NOT cried for two of them, tonight being the second. I don't mean just a few tears, I mean pounding the table and sobbing. I just can't explain what I've experienced. Last Saturday, it took everything I had to just get off the couch, make breakfast and take Dawson to the park.
To try to summarize a few things, I've got some categories that might give a tiny glimpse of what I've experienced.
One of the other male teachers, a TFA teacher, has an interesting group of 6th grade girls. These girls enjoy calling him a "dumb cracker."
I had a kid turn and flash me a half cute, half devilish smile and try to sprint out of the school building. He got caught at the door, though.
On Thursday, as I stood in the midst of the swirling hurricane that is my classroom at the end of the day, I had the thought, "no one would ever believe what I'm seeing if I told them." So, I decided to get out my camera and record it. I just stood there, video recording my classroom. Of course, kids freak out because I could show their parents the video, so the kids started crawling back out from under their desks, releasing their classmates from headlocks and actually doing part of what they were supposed to be doing. Due to liability issues, I can't post the video online.
After spending two weeks with one group of kids, I will now begin teaching the kids that are at a 4th grade reading and math level. I have a classroom full of 5th grade textbooks and nothing for 4th grade. I don't know who is in my class or where my 5th grade kids will be going. It all starts Monday. I wish I could also video the mass chaos, and I mean mass chaos, that will be happening in the halls of our school on Monday. Sometimes the only way to deal with the stress and anxiety is to just laugh.
My fellow 5th grade teacher had a nervous breakdown. She got two days off and went to the doctor. She tried to quit, but TFA wouldn't let her. She's back and looking better. After school today, I said, "you usually look like you've been hit by a MAC truck, today you look like it was just a pickup that hit you. So it's getting better."
Two days ago, as about 200 kids were squeezing through a tiny opening in a chain link fence to get onto the bus, the older kids literally trampled the kindergartners. Seriously, ran OVER them.
Last week, while I was having a breakdown and sobbing in the office, I saw a girl try to attack our principal. It took about four people to restrain her.
I'm not eating much because of the stress. I'm losing a lot of weight and looking pretty sick. But I'm just not hungry because of the tension that is always in my body. I REALLY need some anti-anxiety medicine. I have trouble breathing when picking my class up in the morning.
The Superintendent of the KCMO School District, who had been working very hard to bring about reform, resigned on Tuesday night. And the poor continue to be forgotten and ignored.
The kids have no playground equipment. I did however, thanks to some money that one of Erin's coworkers gave to us, buy them some playground balls.
There are roaches and rats in my classroom.
Kids have to walk across major intersections, along busy streets with no sidewalks and through parks full of drug dealers to get to school. Seriously. How can that be okay?
Two kids who are way behind and really need to learn are about to get suspended for fighting in my classroom, putting them even further behind.
During worship last Sunday a line from one of our songs made me sit down and begin weeping. It was the line, "break my heart with what breaks yours." If I hurt to see how these kids are treated by our system, how must the God of justice, mercy and compassion feel? Who will have to answer for how we've treated our nation's poor?
My wife. Seriously, I would not still be standing if it wasn't for her. She's running the entire house, planning all kinds of things for my lessons, packing my lunches and ironing my clothes while also propping me up emotionally. Erin has always been a great ministry partner, but she has gone beyond even what I knew she could do. She is also supporting and encouraging the other 3 TFA teachers on my hall, too. She is simply amazing.
Just kissing Dawson's blond head and hugging his little body keeps me going. I've been home by 7 amost every night to spend an hour with him. I need to be with my boy.
Just little things here and there. Last Friday, I got them all to walk in a line without talking, for about 2 minutes. Also last Friday, when I said, "I have an announcement to make" (regarding reading to a Kindergarten class) one student blurted out, "Mr. Miller, are you quitting?" I was so shocked by the question, I just laughed. I just can't be another male who walks out on them.
I greet the kids at the door, have them look me in the eye and shake my hand. One boy refused to do it. "I don't touch other guys' hands." I told him that in my classroom we shake the teachers hand and until he's ready to do that, he needs to sit in the back of the room. About a half hour later he came up and shook my hand. I almost cried. I then had a big classroom celebration to "welcome" him to our class for the day.
As the two kids about to be suspended stormed past me leaving school today, I gave them the candy I had just given to the rest of the class. They were so angry and wouldn't look at me. I had them stop, gave them the candy and said, "this is for no reason other than you're my students and I care about you. I'll be back on Monday." I saw a tiny crack in that hard exterior.
People whom I haven't heard from in a long time (and close friends and family) call or text me to reassure me they're praying for me. Honestly, I feel almost forgotten by God sometimes. But things like the financial gifts, prayers and other really simple acts of kindness are the tiny shreds of hope onto which I cling for strength. God has NOT abandoned me, nor these kids and I'm where I'm supposed to be.
The speech teacher across the hall who watched 5 different teachers rotate through my classroom last year keeps reassuring me that I'm doing a good job and that she's seeing progress. When she saw me break down and cry the other day, she slipped note in my door that said, "you're doing a good job and I wouldn't say that if it weren't true."
I watch a few of the veteran teachers who can really do it. I sit in their classrooms during my plan time. It's so amazing to watch.
At art class, I watched my 17 boys act like little angels. The art teacher assured me, "I've been doing this for 20 years, you've been doing it for 7 days. Just keep going."
Most of the teachers there are Christ-followers. The other day, as I broke down and cried as soon as my students left, a veteran teacher put her arms around me and prayed for me. These "vets" are always praying for us "newbies." They are amazing to watch. They pray for us, give us advice and mostly just refuse to let us quit. One teacher told me I not only need to pray before and after school (and I do pray during my 50 minute drive, I pray to have the strength to just walk through the doors of the school) but to pray during the day. To ask God to give me wisdom and strength. Today, I was staring at some kids who were "acting the fool" and thinking some not nice thoughts about them. I started praying, "Jesus, show me how you see them." And my brow softened, I stopped glaring at them and I saw hurting little kids who are loved by Jesus. Then someone did something stupid and I got pissed again. But I saw them with the right eyes, for just a moment.
I could write all night, but I've got to go to bed. I am finally going to take a Sabbath rest tomorrow. I must do it. Sabbath is a reminder that even when I stop working (and I have SO MUCH to do) God continues to run the world. Of course, very few of my plans ever work anyway.
So tomorrow is cleaining the house, taking Dawson to the park and spending the evening with my wife. Last weekend showed me how much strength I can get from just sleeping, eating and talking with some friends.
Not sure when I'll be able to post again...