Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Most Personal Post I Have Ever Written on This Entire Blog

I've been absent for a while, because the last week and a half have been among the most emotionally intense of my entire life. This post isn't so personal that I'm going to tell you all about that, but I am going to spend a bit of time on one aspect of it.

As some of you know and some of you don't, at the end of June I am planning to leave Chicago, where I have lived for the last eight years, and move to I honestly have no idea where. I want to spend the summer travelling within the United States, the subsequent year living and working outside of the United States, and the year after that begin grad school, also probably in the United States, though I'm not positive about that one. In April of 2007, I picked June of 2008 as my departure date, knowing that I had to fix one or I'd never leave, without a realistic notion of the fact that June of 2008 would, in fact, someday arrive. Now that it's just around the corner, I'm faced with the realities of both the preparations I have managed to make and the ones I haven't.

One of the ones I have managed to make is that I gave notice at my job, and the next two days are, in fact, my last two days of work—my last two days as an employed person living in the city of Chicago. The program in which I teach is broken down into seven-week sessions with one interstitial week, during which new students take their pre-tests and participate in a Life Skills course. This my last week is that week. Today I was asked to help two new low- to no-literacy students with their math tests.

As I spoke to these women, I was overcome with the desire to stay at my job.

I fucking *ached* to be their teacher. Because I know I could. I had a deep, clear sense of who and how each of them would be in my Level 1 Reading and Writing class, how they would fit in and interact with the returning students I already know, what I could teach them, how I could teach them, how bloody fascinating their stories must be (it's hard to imagine reaching the age of seventy without having *ever* attended school—what is behind that?) and what those stories, both of these women being senior citizens, would mean in a group that contains a lot of young recovering addicts and extremely young mothers. This afternoon there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to have that class, the class that will be this coming session, the first session at my workplace in more than a year that I will not be present for.

I have made the decision to leave, both my workplace and Chicago, and I am fairly confident that I even know why I made it and still believe it to be the right thing for me. Even if I weren't leaving Chicago, I'd have to make some changes in how I approached this job; I teach part-time and my emotional commitment is full-time, and working in a community where last Tuesday alone I learned that one of my former students had been killed in a drive-by and another sexually assaulted at work, that is no mean emotional commitment. Adult students are, in my general experience of part-time teaching, a lot more draining than child students, because with adults you really have to dig for the hope, both theirs and your own. And you have to love people or teaching doesn't work, and even if you are, as I consider myself to be, an overall loving person, loving is really fucking hard work too.

But in the last year especially I have gotten to become a teacher, become comfortable saying that was who I am, and today, suddenly, that was *all* I was, and I liked it. I wanted to stay forever talking to my co-worker about the probable social dynamics of the new Level 1 classes. I wanted to be around next week when the results of LT's GED exam come in, and I want to help RD study for hers, be around to break down algebra problems and see her cheer for herself when she remembers how pi works. I wanted to be the person with whom the women I was talking to learned to multiply and read poetry and wrote full sentences for the first time. I wanted that more than I wanted to spend time out of this country, or throw myself for a loop in a real and meaningful way, or even start a youth theater company in five years. I wanted nothing, nothing, nothing but to teach these people, to know myself as their teacher.

It's kind of hard to believe I won't.


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