I am a teacher in the Jacksonville, Florida, public school system. I have been in this system for twenty-two years. On the wall above my desk is an E.M. Forster quote: “Only connect….” Often I glance at that quote and often I daydream about having a different job that doesn’t require so much connection. I want to have a job that doesn’t use up every bit of me. I want a job I can walk away from at the end of the day. Not have it follow me home, stay in my head all evening, and wake up next to me in the morning. I see the faces o my students and I hear the exchanges we have. I wonder what I could have done or said differently; how I need to think about things in order to make the most meaningful connections. Sometimes I think it takes more effort than I am willing to give to connect with these children.
I teach sixth graders who are identified as struggling readers. Most of them are reading at least two grade levels below where the system expects them to be. Most of them struggle with more than just reading- their lives are complicated. Some days I think I am unable to comprehend how very complicated their lives are. Our backgrounds and experiences are so different and yet I must connect with them before they will let my message through. I am desperate for them to understand that being able to read well is what will give them the most choices in their lives. They’re big on choices. We work deals all the time and everything goes much more smoothly when they are presented with choices. If I am too passionate about this whole reading thing I know they will tune me out. It is a fine line I walk in this connection thing.
Every now and then something happens and I am encouraged. Yesterday, while I was reading aloud a particularly touching passage from a novel we’re working on, one of the tough guys in the class quickly brushed away a fat tear rolling down his cheek. He connected. A couple of months ago Joseph linnked arms with me as we walked the length of the classroom. He said, “Ms Faustini, I want to be just like you some day.” I asked, “Joseph, why would you want to be an old, white woman?” He grinned and shook my arm laughing. “Nah, I mean I want to be a teacher and you know you ain’t white- you black like me.” I squeezed the arm linked through mine. I smiled and shook my head. I have to savor these moments- they don’t come very often. These are moments when I feel I have made a connection and the memory of them is why I know I’ll be back here next year.
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