Saturday, June 12, 2010

Coulda, shoulda...

Several times recently, I've caught myself daydreaming about my would-have-been students this year, the 60 kids in three classes at three schools who I was slated to teach at different points last summer before they one by one fell through. I haven't thought about them at all for most of the year, except for a dream I had back in September that the teacher they hired to replace me at the last job didn't show up on the first day of school and I happened to be there picking stuff up, so I stepped in. I wonder why I'm thinking about them now, as the school year is drawing to a close (or, for some of them, has ended already); I imagine that earlier in the year it was just too painful to think about them, but by now I can reflect on them with regret but without heartbreak.

The 22 first graders at a fancy public school occasionally cross my mind, as do the 14 3rd graders at an even fancier private school. However, the ones who I think of most are the last group: the 24 first graders, half of them native French speakers and the other half native English speakers, in the bilingual school where the principal tearfully informed me last September 2nd that it was not to be. I never met these kids, but I had my class list, and I can picture them. They had adorable little names like Gwenaelle and Sophie, and in my imagination they have skinny, pale limbs and braids with tufts of hair sticking out, wear baggy shorts and turn their toes inward as they line up by twos. Okay, maybe I lied: it still is a little heartbreaking to think about these kids.

However, I am also enamored of my current students. In my Cambridge school, I feel like a celebrity. Everywhere I go kids excitedly call my name and wave to me, even kids who are three years old who you'd think would have trouble remembering their own name. Two days ago I walked into a class of first and second graders, and my arrival resulted in havoc: kids jumped up, others shouted “Heathen!”, and still others ran over to me and asked if I would be in their classroom all day, as though my presence were the equivalent of a new red bike. The following day, one of the kids who I was with ran over to tell me she had a present for me: she brought me chocolate. These kids are pretty damn adorable.

There are too many kids to mention, but fluffy-haired, Iranian Mohammed, who once asked me if I live in the gymnasium, is certainly one I'll remember. As are all the Haitian earthquake refugees, but especially handsome, 4th grade Jacques, his darling little brother Luc, and chubby 3rd grader McKervelline. Once in a while when I'm on recess duty they don't participate in the games Coach facilitates, but instead sit on rocks with me at the side of the playground in the sun and describe to me in heavily-accented French what the earthquake was like, the smell of dead bodies that pervaded the air, the tiny baby one of them saw dead, that a pet cat and their school were both squashed. Then they tell me how much they love Haiti, how they can't wait to go back, and how deliciously juicy the mangoes are.

Then there's tiny little Truth, barely three years old, who when I first met him held up his five fingers and exclaimed, “I'm gonna be a whole hand on my next birthday!” (Little exaggeration there.) He proudly dressed in a suit and brought in his 8th grade brother for a share on his leader day, and tells amazing stories about himself in the third person: “There was this brave boy named Truth, and he had a pet dog named Strappy, and they were best friends. One day they were walking down the street and they met a purple dragon...”

Two slightly bossy Indian girls who are competitive best friends are also memorable; each time I visit their class they try to one-up each other through their compliments: “Heathen, I like your shirt!” “Heathen, I like your shoes and your earrings!” “Heathen, I like your whole outfit!” 2nd grade Renato, the black child of two gay Italian men and, interestingly, the most Italian-looking black kid I've ever seen, makes me laugh with his intense stare and goofy questions. He looks and acts like a character straight out of a Tomie de Paola book.

I'm sad that I never got to meet Sophie, Gwenaelle and the others and be their teacher, but I'm awfully glad I got to meet these kids. I'm sure my future classes will be equally amazing.

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