Colors, Patience, Superman – Teaching on the Borderlands.

The little boy would not enter my classroom.

I saw him lingering, out in the hallway in front of my doorway, amidst the organized chaos of our morning routine, as the other students were coming in. Then, a moment later, he was gone.

I didn’t think much of it.

He was either afraid, or he was having a bad day. Or both. His teacher – my colleague – had to take the day off unexpectedly because her son woke up with a high fever.

On days when a teacher is out, we normally split up that teacher’s class between the remaining four 5th grade teachers, so we get an additional five to six more students.

We do this because on a campus like ours, located just a mile away from the U. S.-Mexico border, where we service a heavily Spanish-dominant population whose median income is below the poverty level, and we have to prepare them to pass the 5th grade STAAR exams, losing a day of instruction can really hurt these children.

Rather than having twenty-two to twenty-three students doing busy work, increasing the chances of them acting up with a substitute, it’s better they come to us and continue getting actual instruction.

There are space issues. Classroom behavior spikes a bit, but as long as we’re prepared with constant instruction, lessons, activities, the students are too engaged to even try to act up. Usually it ends up alright.

This day, we’re testing our district’s CBAs – a mini diagnostic to check if teachers have been teaching and if the students have learned what their teachers have been teaching. I get my students settled and working on their morning routine while I make room for the extra students.

Our special education teacher comes in and tells me that the little boy went back to his teacher’s classroom.
He’s in the room by himself.
He doesn’t want to come to my class.

I can cut a pretty imposing figure, with my size and my beard, and the children can find it intimidating – even threatening if I stand too close to a child.

This little boy has ED, so there are times when he won’t cooperate, won’t want to go where he is supposed to.

I head over to his classroom.

The little boy is there, standing up against a whiteboard. He looks unsettled, with a small light of defiance in his eyes.

The substitute is there as well.

I ask her if she could go to my class and watch my students since I left them unattended. She does so.

When she’s left the classroom, I ask the little boy if he’s going to come to my class. He just stares at me.

I ask him what his name is. He mumbles. By this time, morning announcements have begun, and with my peripheral deafness, I can’t make out what he’s saying.

I ask again.

I still can’t hear him. I ask him again and I explain to him why I keep asking. This time he yells out his name.
I shift my demeanor and I tell him firmly not to yell at me like that.

I wasn’t yelling at him and I honestly couldn’t hear him. There was no need for it. I tell him he’s being rude.
He says his name again, this time in a softer tone.

This time I hear him. I thank him.

I slowly walk towards him, but he begins to walk around, opposite me, keeping himself equidistant from me. We’re both feeling each other out, and we both know it.

I sit down.

For a while, I don’t talk.

I just sit there, calmly listening to the morning announcements. I’m not frowning. I make sure that my posture is relaxed.

I make sure that I’m giving off an aura of calm. I let him grow accustomed to my presence. I ask him if he wants to sit. He shakes his head no.

I calmly, gently explain to him that he needs to come to my class and I tell him not to worry.

I explain to him that I don’t want him to get into any trouble.

Then his special education teacher comes in and begins talking to him in a rough manner.

She needs to take him to her room so she can give him his test.

I use this time to call the front office and ask for our assistant principal to come by.

I step out into the hallway and when she reaches me, I explain to her the situation.
She tells me she’ll take care of it and tells me to go back to my class.

I do, and I get my kids settled down and pass out their tests.

As soon as I’m done, I see the little boy at my door.

The security guard escorted him. I tell the boy, hi! Come in and sit by me. I gesture at a chair on one end of my banana table and I sit. He walks in slowly and sits down.

I have a colorful tray filled with different types of markers that I use to create my classroom posters. I give him loose-leaf paper and push the tray towards him.
I ask him if he likes to draw.
He says yes.

I ask him if he could draw me something he likes. I sit there beside him as he draws. It’s a crude child’s drawing of Superman.

I tell him that I like Superman. I tell that I like to draw also.

I ask him, would you like to draw with me? I could draw you Superman after you finish your test.

He smiles and nods yes. His teacher comes for him and he leaves my room to take his test.

I tell him goodbye and that we’ll draw as soon as he’s done.

He never comes back.

Later I find out that he was sent home because of his behavior.

This was Thursday.

It’s Friday now.

We have two 5th grade teachers out all day at a training.

This time I get seven additional students.

We’re done with testing.
It’s “activity” Friday, and I give my students an extra thirty minutes.

Again I’m getting all the students settled and working when a student stops by my class and asks if I can step outside so his teacher can talk to me in the hallway.

It’s the little boy again.

He doesn’t want to go into his classroom teacher’s room.

The special education teacher is there again and she says he wants to go back with me because I told him that I would draw him Superman.

She sounds angry and frustrated but I respond cheerfully, of course he could come with me!

I ask him to come with me.

He follows me.

As I pass, I tell the special education teacher to come by later, once he’s settled down, so he could be picked up and do whatever work he needs to be done.

We can’t have a student out in the hallway unsupervised. It’s a safety concern. Better he’s with me in my classroom where I can keep an eye on him.

The boy sits down back at my banana table.

I sit beside him. I gently explain that he is always welcome in my room and I’ll always find time to draw with him, but he has to go with his classroom teacher later and he has to go with the special education teacher so he can learn and be smart.
He says okay.

Then I explain to him that I have to go about teaching my class and showing them the activities they need to complete.

He doesn’t blow up.

He doesn’t have an episode.

He nods and sits and waits calmly.

I go to my instruction area, I get my students attention, and I begin modeling the activities for my students using my document camera.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I notice something.

I have the lights off, so the class can see what I’m doing on our smart board.

Off to my right, in the back corner of my room, the little boy is standing up.

I continue my modeling with one eye on him and I see what he’s doing. I was actually surprised.

He’s straightening up my banana table, organizing my papers, throwing scraps of cut paper into my recycling basket, putting all my stray markers, pens and pencils where he thinks they belong.
I pause in the middle of my instruction and I tell him thank you, you’re doing such a great job and I appreciate it.

Then I finally reach a stopping point.

The class is working and they’re in their flow, so I’m able to go back and sit down with him.

I have my phone jacked into a speaker system, and I start playing some instrumental chill hop and trip hop. That always gets the kids working but it doesn’t over stimulate them.

The lights are off, but I have a multi-colored octopus lamp that bathes the room in a soothing glow.

I start drawing Superman for him.

He watches me, smiling with delight as Superman slowly takes form, flying up into the air, his cape billowing around him.

It’s not my best work.

I stopped practicing my figure sketching in college, but I would sketch occasionally, and I’ve slowly taken it up again as I sketch out character ideas for the manuscript I’m working on.

I’m smiling, too.

I’m keeping an eye on my students making sure they’re on task, but I’m relaxed.
When I finish, I hand it over to him, and he starts coloring, asking which part of his costume is blue, which is red, and all that.

I tell him, but I also encourage him to color however he wants to, change it up.

I sit beside him and watch.
My students come to me with questions about their assignments.

I answer them.

Eventually, the special education teacher comes for him, and he leaves, not one complaint.

I take a breath.

Seven students working on their own separate activities, my twenty-two students working on their assignments, and this little boy, who calmed down when I began drawing him his Superman.

Teaching children is a nonstop job. You have to be good at juggling and have a quick mind.

You need to teach them the skills in Reading, Math, Science. Writing, often. Social Studies when we can.

But that’s fifty percent of the job.

The other fifty is seeing to their needs – and there are twenty-two very different students with very different personalities, with different levels of learning.

Guiding them when they do their work. Building their confidence by showing them that they can master any concept. Showing them different ways to try and solve problems. Teaching them to recognize their own self-worth. Showing them how to use their words and communicate with one another in respectful ways to settle differences.

These are not suburban kids.

Many of the students I teach have fathers and uncles and cousins in prison.

They come from homes where the stress level is high, parents, single or together trying to make ends meet.

Quite often the default tone at home is yelling.

Some only have the breakfast and lunch the district provides for them as their only meals.

There are some parents, single, grandparents, stepparents, who really care about the education of their children.

And there are an unfortunate few who don’t pay attention.

All these children want is to know that they can be good at something.

All these children want is to learn and be a success and have fun doing so.

All these children want is to know that there is someplace safe, with regularity, stability.

All they want is to know that there is someone who cares about them.

And I’ve grown with them.

I’m a forty-three year old man. I have Major Depression and adult ADHD.
I’ve been medicated three years now, and I finally feel that I am the teacher I want to be.

The loss of my father and my longtime relationship has tempered me.

As a Gemini I seek peace and balance. And all of that has informed my teaching.

I’ve grown into a father figure for my students, my children, whom I love driving thirty minutes from my home to teach.

I’ve been teaching 5th grade at this campus for eight years now.

To teach, it truly takes love – not some squishy, saccharine love, but a fighter’s love, a fighter’s heart.

It takes dedication.

It takes an almost monastic devotion.

There is a craft to teaching children, an art.

It takes a fair mind – free of bias or prejudice.

It takes kindness.

It takes a soft word and a firm but gentle hand.

It takes never giving up on any students.

Not.

One.

It takes humor.

It takes breathing – a lot of breathing.

And it takes patience.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it even takes some colors and Superman.

Where’veI’veBeen???

“I shut and locked the front door

No way in or out

I turned and walked the hallways

And pulled the curtains down

yeah I knelt and emptied the mouths of every plug around …

I’m in hiding …”

-Pearl Jam, In Hiding.

I am a man adrift on a raft on a sea of my Major Depression management.

It’s funny – I totally believe in medication – prescribed and administered properly.

God knows it’s helped me. But it’s never a cure-all. There’s a mental health saying that goes, “recovery never happens in a straight line.” And it’s true.

I know I’ve gotten better.

I feel it.

My psychiatrist told me he wasn’t worried about me anymore – and that was months ago I’m done grieving – both for my father’s passing away and my breakup.

So I’m feeling a strange kind of numbness.My emotional state goes from numb to even to content.

However, setbacks – predominately at work – really do set me back. I still feel the gravitational lethargic pull to my bed, to fall in, stay, and disappear.

One day I took off from work, I stayed in bed for most of the day. The following day as well. I recover back to neutral.

I go on.

I’ve isolated myself.

People and their problems were too much for me.

I had kind of lost myself in trying to be available to help others – as a way of avoiding my own problems, but also as a way of doing penance for the wrongs I’ve caused others. But people are people, and they’ll do whatever they’re driven to do anyway.

I did.

So I cut off everybody and cocooned myself.

I’d sit outside, smoke my pipe, and think. Sometimes listen to music. Often without, instead listening to the sigh and sway of The Three Sisters.

It’s calming.

Now the school year’s ending.Summer’s coming.

Summer’s coming.

I can feel it.

I’m getting restless.

My energy is coming back, now that it is not 100% focused on my students.

Another change comes with it.

And who I will be after that, who can say?

I just ride the ocean tides.

Feeling Nothing Feels Great: Letting go of everything and cutting off everyone leads to me to a refreshingly odd sense of balance.

Letting go of everything and cutting off everyone leads to me to a refreshingly odd sense of balance.

I’m a bastard.

A cold-hearted son of a bitch.

Heartless, cold, detached – removed from everyone and everything.

If you ask some people what they think about me, that’s what they would probably respond.

Asshole, I believe, would be another fitting epitaph that belongs in that Top Ten.

Why?

Because I’ve let a lot of people whom I’ve met recently go.

I’ve cut them off from my life.

Pointless relationships that have added more stress, more drama, more baggage into my life – a life that has already been overloaded by stress, drama and baggage.

How have I come to this decision?

What led me to this?

Nothing.

Feeling nothing has lead me to this decision.

What do I mean by that?

Ever since last summer, it’s been a constant ritual of mine to go out to my backyard, listen to music, have a drink, smoke, and think. Recently, however, I’ve noticed something. The ritual hasn’t really changed, but the motivation behind it has.

I don’t feel anything anymore.

And I mean that in a good way – in the best way possible. The pain is gone. The sadness is gone.
I’ve realized that I’m no longer grieving. My father, my breakup, my cheating.
The grief has gone.

I’ve accepted.

I’m at peace.

I’m balanced.

And that is such a damn good feeling to have.

Fine, but strange.
I’m not used to this.
I’m not used to feeling even.
The rituals I have created to help me process and manage the pain are have now become the rituals I perform to simply unwind. It is now a ritual of relaxation, a ritual to enjoy simple pleasures.

I still think.

I still ruminate.

I still take mental and spiritual inventory. I practice being in the now, being self aware.

I’ve started smoking pipe tobacco.

I love it.

It suits my contemplative lifestyle, my fetish for collecting objects with I can physically interact with. But it is also a way for me to stay connected to my past – my dad used to smoke pipes. So it’s a ritual with a spiritual aspect, and I need those practices in my life.

It was during this time, when I was taking mental inventory and feeling at peace that I was able to pinpoint other, much smaller, but no less significant areas of stress and anxiety in my life. It was in that state that I was able to itemize the personal relationships in my life.

I’ve been striving to achieve peace. Now I have it. And it’s allowed me emotional distance and clarity of thought.

My life has been a constant struggle to balance a life of solitude with a life filled with having relationships with people whom I always feel I need to validate my life to, with whom I seek constant stimulation from.

I’m tired of that.

I’m tired of trying to impress people.

I’m tired of trying to actively have people in my life who don’t really want to be there.

I’m tired of trying to show people all the good about me that they don’t even have the eyes to see.

I’m tired of having people in my life who feel the need to remind how they don’t have to be here, how they could be doing other things – that their spending time with me is a sacrifice their making.

Who the hell says that to another human being?

Because I never have.

I’ve given my time up freely. I’ve accepted people into my life as is: broken, whole, mental illnesses or physical illnesses. I’ve accepted them because I’ve enjoyed their company.

And I don’t feel that any friendship should come with an asterisk, or with micromanagement. I don’t tell people to stop telling me about Zodiac signs, because I don’t believe in that. I don’t tell people to act this way when they themselves act that way.

I don’t tell my friends how to live their lives – I make suggestions. I’ll bring up the subject – but that’s only if they constantly vent about something in their lives. I tell people how to live their lives as a general statement more on a social media post than I ever have in a one on one personal relationship. And I do that to provoke thought.

And after the life I’ve lived, the mistakes I’ve made, the damage I’ve done, I know that I am no one to tell someone how to live. I can offer advice, that’s all.
I’m tired of trying to make friends I don’t really want and I’m tired of trying to impress or get the attention of women I don’t really care about.

So they’re out.

Gone.

I’ve deleted, unfollowed, disconnected everyone who isn’t important to me, who hasn’t made my life better.
Is that cold, heartless? I don’t think so.

I’m not a fool, nor am I delusional.

I know that anyone that I’ve cut out will be as glad to be rid of me as I am of them. I know that anyone I’ve cut out already has too much going in their lives where they will barely notice my passing. Or if they do, they’ll get over it soon. I know no one I’ve met depends on me.

I know that no one I’ve met would be devastated by my absence. Because most of the people I’ve met and have formed any sort of bond of friendship with since my father passed away have been in their mid-twenties. Any twenty year old is not going to be all broken up by what at best would be considered casual friendships.

Even one whom I considered my best friend for a time, but with her unchecked depression, I would invariably be the one she would dump on. She would tell me not to send her memes on my being a Gemini – I mean flat out text me back, “I don’t believe in that. Stop sending me that.” She would always feel the need to remind how busy she was, and that she didn’t have to be here in my life.

I’m sorry, but who the hell is anyone to tell anyone that they can’t do the little things they do because it’s part of who they are?

Don’t check me like that. I don’t correct your spelling. I don’t tell you not to parrot your college professors – or at least not on the daily. You are as you are and I accept you as you are. Isn’t that real friendship?

I definitely do not need people like that in my life.
I’m sorry, but I feel only two should have the right to correct me – and that’s my mother and my mate – and she was neither, so I forced her out of my life.

I felt nothing when I cut her off, no grief, no sadness, no regret. Actually, I felt good, I felt light. I felt free. Now what does that tell you?

There are some people who I’ve remained on good terms with. People who I would like to have friendships with in the future, if possible. But these are relationships that have been maintained at a constant temperature, with people who are more even-tempered.

But right now, all I feel is the need to put myself first.

I’m still working on being me.

I’m still working on solidifying the relationships I’ve already had with the people who have been in my life. I have my relationship with my oldest brother and his partner. I have my relationship with my mother. I have my relationship with my best friend all the way back since our elementary school days who just had a child. I haven’t visited yet, and he expects me too. I need to prepare myself to be more of a presence in his and his son’s life – which he also expects.

Then there’s the relationship with my ex-girlfriend.
I reconnected with her. Things between us aren’t a hundred percent, but it’s the best they’ve been since we fell apart. The space and distance and boundaries I’ve set have helped. We’ve talked. We both know that we may never have the same relationship before. We may never be able to get back together as a couple at all. There’s still so much to work out before that, and our lives are still so different. But I do want her in my life.

I love her.

I always will.

Having her and her daughters as some part of my life is important to me. And after all that has happened, I’ll take whatever I can get.

I’ll be in their lives in whatever way she’s comfortable with – even if that means she doesn’t. It’s her call. After everything, she’s earned that right.
It’s worth it to me. It’s my decision, and it’s a decision that I choose to make, and it’s a decision that I make on a daily basis. And I’ll change it if it’s not beneficial to me, if it hurts me more than helps me.

Who I keep in my life, who I cut off – it’s my choice.

I decide.

And if I no longer see any value or benefit for me, then I’ll cut you off.

I can do that, because it’s my life.

I can do that, because I’ve wasted too much of my time on people who just used me.

I can do that, because I know that I’ve either given, done, or tried something to make that person’s life better.

I have given them something of worth, of value. I’ve given, not taken.

And at least I announce it.

I’m not a coward, some indifferent person who simply ghosts you – that’s simply inhuman.

Every relationship begins with an introduction, so if that relationship must end, then there must be a farewell.

It’s the geometry of life – circles and lines.

I believe in closure.

The equations of relationships, the balance of my life.

Everything must be equalized, calibrated, on the scale of my life.

It’s what allows me to sleep at night, free of guilt, remorse, or what ifs.

I’ve put good karma out in the world. Now, some might say that karma will leave me alone in the end, that karma will have people I care about leave me on a dime, without a word, for the actions that I’m doing in the present.

That’s fine. It’s been done to me – plenty of times. But if they leave me, then they weren’t really good for me in the first place, were they?

If I’m left alone, good, I prefer solitude – especially now that I know who I am and that I’ve learned how to enjoy it.

Life’s all math, isn’t it?

It’s all odds and percentages and additions and subtractions.

Risky behaviors done repeatedly increase your chances of an early and ugly end.
Positive behaviors and habits increase your chances of a longer life.

Then there are those random one thousand-to-one occurrences – like car crashes, terrorist attacks, mass shootings – that come out of nowhere and in a few second’s time rip your world to shreds.

Funny how numbers rule and determine our outcomes.

Odds.

Percentages.

Additions.

Subtractions.

Age groups.

Demographics.

Time, told in seconds, minutes, hours, with it’s ironclad multiples of sixty.

Days, months, and years – dictated by the Gregorian calendar, with its multiples of 12.

Your geographic location – longitude and latitude.

Some numbers we can’t escape.

Others we can proactively do something about, to change our predicted outcomes.

So, yeah, in a way, I am being calculating.

And if you consider that cold-hearted, then I’ll own it.
I play the long game. I follow my in-the-moment, short term-gut intuitions to increase my chances of the best long term life I can have.

Because in the end, that’s all we really do have, isn’t it – ourselves?