About two months ago, I found myself crying in the maternity section of Target mere hours before a flight on Sunday to the AP Reading in Tampa. My bags were unpacked, the clock was ticking, and I was sobbing under the harsh fluorescent lighting, lost in a part of the store – a whole genre of clothing – I knew nothing about.
See, about three months pregnant, I’d finally run up against the inevitable clothing wall. Nothing I owned was comfortable any more; I was hoping to squeeze (literally) a few more weeks out of my clothes before I had to shop for new ones. After realizing that I still hadn’t packed at nine and then realizing that everything was awful and miserable around ten, I found myself an hour later in the clearance section of Target trying to find something cheap that could last me for a few weeks.
Extra smalls as far as the eye could see. Not what I needed.
I asked the worker on duty for help; she suggested I shop in the maternity section “even though you’re obviously not pregnant.” That comment broke me. I’m not a crier or one for public displays of any emotion beyond the Snoopy Dance, but there I was. Crying. In. A. Target.
I bought my maternity pants and went home, determined to put the whole night behind me.
But I couldn’t. Days later, I realized what bothered me so much about the interaction: I was pregnant. I was, AM, lucky enough to experience a part of life that not every one else can. I was so thankful and excited about this journey that very few people knew about at that point. And I wanted people to know, to recognize and acknowledge that something really, really neat was going on – completely on its own, seemingly separate from my conscious self.
In short, I wanted all that was going on inside of me to be made manifest to the outside world; I wanted my inside self to be obviously reflected in my outside self. In the moment – right or wrong – I felt robbed of understanding, or acknowledgement, of something that had become essential to my sense of self. Big feelings for what, ultimately, was such a small moment.
I’ve been waiting to write this blog post since then.
This experience has stayed with me all summer as I planned for the school year; as with almost everything in my life I tried to apply this thinking to my classroom and found a fresh reminder that often so much happens under the surface or behind the scenes for my students that I may not see or know about. I wonder how many students have sat in my class, struggling because they know what they want to say, but can’t quite figure out how to say it. Maybe they wished they could just write an idea out instead of vocalizing it. I wonder how many times what’s going on inside of them longs to be made unmistakably apparent to the outside world. I wonder if in those moments they feel as frustrated or overwhelmed or alone as I did in Target.
I hope not, but I’m betting some do.
“What is your why?” This simple question is one the blog has posed before, and I love finding a why for my year every August. In addition to my why for this year, I want to remember in my instruction, my grading, my conversations, my interactions with students that they, like Whitman said, “are large … and contain multitudes” even when, especially when, those multitudes aren’t readily visible.
Sarah Morris teaches AP English Language & Composition, AP Seminar, and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. She is currently reading The Shallows and suggests you read it too. Annoy (err…I mean, share joyfully with) all of your friends the interesting ways the internet is changing our society, whether they want to hear it or not! She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.
That was beautiful. Bless you. Cuts right to the heart of why. And cuts right to the heart of how to teach …connect to students and create a space where they can find their voice–their heart-songs.
This summer I have been working with students in a credit recovery course. Many of them were very successful there. We gave them an exit survey. One question asked why they thought they might have been so successful. Many of them responded that in their classes they just got lost. They didn’t know how to ask “fancy” questions. They responded that they really didn’t know how to ask for help. They didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. Also this summer, my daughter (age 18 just graduated from high school) worked in one of our summer reading camps for at risk learners. She worked with 3rd graders who faced potential retention because they’re not reading on grade level. One particular student grabbed her heart. I knew about him. Many people in our district knew about him because he probably spent more time with the assistant principal at that school than he did with his teachers. My daughter, though, had a breakthrough with him. He was trying to tell her something and was just so frustrated because he couldn’t get his idea to form with his words. So, he lashed out and threw a chair. Instead of applying consequences for throwing the chair, she got eye to eye with him and said, “It’s OK, buddy. Just tell me all of the words that are coming in your head right now, and I’ll sort through them to make sense of what you are wanting to say. Let’s just have a word puke.” Now, I’m not sure how technical word puke is, but she was able to get to what he needed to ask. Sometimes we all need that. Our insides and outsides just don’t match. I wonder if we try too often to get the finished product first from our students rather than letting them go through the word puke process. Thinking is messy. It needs to be.