I started a new job this week. I'm a paraprofessional in a local high school Humanities department, a Parapro. I help out in two freshman Reading and English classrooms; I make copies; I take attendance; I tutor; I supervise the study hall. I'm a para. I para-lotta hats.
It's been thirteen years since I've been in front of a classroom. I tell people I'm going back to work, but that feels weird. Because I have been working for the past thirteen years. I've been wiping shit off baby asses and keeping little tiny people alive and fed and clothed and clean and packing about two thousand sack lunches and doing laundry, mountains upon mountain ranges of laundry. And wrangling Brownie troops and volunteering to dress up as the Plastic Bag monster for Earth Day at the elementary school. I put on this jumpsuit with layers and layers of plastic grocery bags attached with safety pins, there was even a cute little plastic bag chapeau and I roared into the cafeteria "I am the Plastic Bag Monster! I live for a million years! Chicago has banned me forever!"
And it was fun, but it was work, too.
But now I'm getting a paycheck and hanging out with a lot more grownups, yay. But today I really want to tell you about the kids. Because you gotta love the kids. If you don't, don't work in a school.
They just crack me up. There's this kid in Study Hall on Tuesday, it's a silent study hall and I turn and catch him like this, waving his arms in the air like he's trying to crack up his friends on the other side of the room. And he freezes with his arms up, I stare at him and he's just stuck there like maybe I won't notice? or he doesn't know what else to do? and he kind of shrugs, like, "Eh, you caught me, what can I do?"
And then there's Dion, in 7th period who's so antsy he can't sit still and he's doesn't so much sit in his chair as inhabit it. He's contorts himself around it, his knee under his hip on the seat of the chair and his other knee's on the ground and two of the legs of the chair are off the ground and he's grabbing onto his desk in front of him for dear life because he'll fall if he doesn’t hang on while we're reading the story in the copy packet. That I copied. I'm a para.
But the story in the copy packet goes on and really, it's this funny story called "Becoming Henry Lee" about a Korean kid who tries to sound more white by watching a VHS copy of Roots and imitating the plantation owners accents, I know, it's ridiculous and funny but my students, these kids, these fourteen year olds whose reading level is three or four and six years behind, they can't read dialect very well and it's going over their head and it's 7th period and they're fading fast so my friend Kerry, who's teaching the class, she says, "Okay, we're all gonna stand up and clap. C'mon, get up." And she starts clapping and I'm "okay" and I start clapping and you know when you're a teacher you know these things can go south really easy.
The kids are staring at you like you're an idiot and you've lost them. And when you've lost them, it doesn't matter what you say, they won't do it, they'll talk over you and walk right out of the room, they'll eat you up, chew you real good and spit you out on the floor. It's really hard to come back from that. But in for a dime, in for a dollar. So here we are, we're two middle-aged white ladies clapping in front of a room of adolescents. And Thank God, Angel stands up, because he's such a sweetheart, he'll do anything the teachers tell him and then Eric stands up, because he's always up for something different and then we start cheering each time another kid stands up and then we start calling the sitters out by name and poor little Mulan who is this shy quiet delicate little thing, I call her name and I say, "You can do it!" and she smiles for like the first time all period and she stands up and they're doing it, even hard case Ralph until only Marika, sleepy defiant apathetic Marika is left and we gather around her chair and chant and clap, "Mar-i-ka! Mar-i-ka!" and she says "no no" and flops her head down. And then she does it. She changes her mind and hauls herself to her feet.
She stands up and we're all standing there, clapping for each other, for no other reason than we're here in school and it's the middle of August and their Chicago friends are still at the pool and reading is really hard for some people but we're doing it together and every kid needs a standing ovation once in a while.