I am currently sitting across the hallway from a classroom where a group of 7th graders are waiting for their science teacher – but I am not a teacher.
Counting down the minutes until I cross the threshold into the professional world, I am anticipating the worst and the best at the same time. I am sure both will happen over the next year in and out of the classroom, but that’s not what scares me.
There is something internal going on that makes me feel uneasy. I can see it in the faces of the other corps members in the hallways of our dorms at night as they hunch over a poster that read “Work Hard – Get Smart” in bold red scented marker. We write cliches in colored letters and creative patterns, hoping that the kids will buy into the idea that “knowledge is power,” but as the sun gets closer to the horizon, doubt begins to haunt our 3rd floor.
Is it possible? And if it is, can I do it?
Back in the classroom, I try to hide the truth with my goatee, a pressed pair of pants, glossy shoes and a conservative tie, but even the bags under my eyes and the coffee on my breath do not deliver a convincing performance that says “I have life experience. I have knowledge. I am able to teach you. I can make the difference.”
I review my notes one last time. I am not a teacher. I am a child, just like my students. I put on a mask and hope that my class won’t figure out that I have no idea what I am talking about.
It’s 9 hours since I walked my class down to the lunch room. The class was about what you’d expect to find in a Philly summer school classroom. Dylan is brilliant, but has never been challenged. Brian has a terrible home situation that has undoubtedly facilitated his inability to read. For whatever reason, they have underperformed their whole lives.
Reflecting on my lesson, I can’t figure out how important the information was that I was trying to teach them. I can’t decided whether or not they learned anything.
And if I’m honest, I don’t know if “knowledge” will necessarily result in “power.” Odds are still against every single kid in that classroom regardless of the amount of assessments they ace this year. Even if that is a start, I can’t even figure out if I have what it takes to be their teacher, to be their mentor, to be an adult.
The truth is life has always been serious, just I’ve been allowed to take it easy as a child because of my supportive situation growing up. My students never had that luxury. They have an unbelievable understanding about life that encompasses death, sex, loss, drugs and absolute despair.
And this is the game we play. I wear the mask of the wise teacher, they wear the mask of the innocent child and we dance at dawn hoping that neither of us will catch on. We both want to believe it’s true.
I pray that by the end of these 4 weeks, we will have fooled each other and I can take off this mask for good.