She juggles her car keys and coffee cup as she bumps the door shut on her car with her hip. Heaving a big sigh, she opens the trunk of the car to retrieve an overstuffed bag containing her laptop, a binder, planning book, and miscellaneous tools she’ll need throughout the day.

Slamming the trunk of her car, she begins the walk to her classroom where she will carry more than her overflowing bag and the morning’s coffee.

Meetings begin. Displaying a poker face that alludes to confidence, she carries the anxiety of not being certain of her role with a new team, in a new building. She carries uncertainty in wondering if each meticulously planned activity will engage her students and help them to be successful. She carries pencils and erasers for her mistakes, eye drops for her sandpaper eyes, and a distrust for administrators. She snubs the voice in her head that rattles her to-do list like an old record; it’s on repeat, and it’s never silent.

Students walk by in the hallway, some peeking into her room to see if it’s safe to enter, searching for a quiet place to be before the turmoil of the high school starts full-bore. In her mind, she carries the faces of students past: the smiling visage of Tommy as he made his classmates laugh; the stoic countenance of Mike, the autistic student who took morning naps each day in the corner of her room before school started; the desperation and submission on Randy’s face when he told her he was living in his car and was going to drop out; the defiant scowl of Paul before he was sent to prison for murder. The weighted memories of these students conversely weigh her down and release her as she ponders how she could have done things differently. She carries these students, and others, with her every second of the day.

The first bell rings, and students begin to stroll into her room, finding seats, dropping overloaded backpacks on the floor, greeting friends, grumbling about working. Through the wearisome chaos that begins each morning, she carries a hope for the day–that something will connect, that something will matter, that her coffee doesn’t run out too soon, that she didn’t forget a major piece of her lesson or forget to run a pile of copies she will need for her biggest and most rambunctious class.

As a teacher, the weight of the things I carry both wears me down and builds me up. The power in that knowledge helps me realize that my students carry weight as well, that their baggage may be more than they know how to carry. Baggage may look like the class clown, disguising his confusion and hiding behind humor so he doesn’t look stupid in front of his classmates. Baggage may look like dark eyeliner and bright colored hair, bandana wrapped around a wrist–an appearance of defiance but more of a cry for understanding and appreciation. Baggage may look like a fierce concentration to hold back an uncontrollable urge to rock back and forth, blurt out a random word, or bang your own head against a table.

These young people carry things; their teachers carry things; baggage weighs them all down in different ways. But the baggage will remain until we learn how to put it down, or until it makes us stronger and we no longer carry the bags but learn how to stack them up on each other and climb out of our stuckness.

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