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I hate it when teachers talk about the Real World, as if patches of TP stuck to bathroom walls with no other adhesive than shit were not real, as if the occupation of teaching and the pursuit of a learned mind could not stand without the crutch of commerce and threat of paycheck deduction, as if the chorus needed one more monotone voice: You’ll need this for 5th grade because your 8th grade teachers won’t put up with high school work will be different from post-secondary degrees land a good job.

I’m for relevant curricula laden with text-to-world connections, cultural literacy and resume lessons; I’m also for planting seeds in the mulch of escapsim, for preparing students for communities not just as They Are but also as they Can Be. Most of my students feel the weight of a limited future already without the pending revenge implied by my version of the World, a place none other than adulthood’s true horror.

There are 100 days left until the first day of school in the fall, and even though my students have a large countdown in the cafeteria, I tear pages from a smaller countdown in my room. It’s near the end of the year. These kids may not yet be eager to coordinate their Velcro binders with their First Day ‘fits, but they are nostalgic about school and optimistic about life, especially the seniors.

I hope someday their heretofore hypothetical bosses allow them to be childlike. I hope my kids look back in their yearbooks and read, taped to the back inside cover, about a strangely familiar kind of spirit:

You wake up one morning fascinated by everything.
You eat OtterPops in the summer because that’s how you know it is summer.
You make a kite out of twigs, dental floss, and some brown paper napkins.
You find something crawling under rocks at the end of the driveway.
You look for hayseeds in needle cushions.
You curl up in a ball in the grass.
You master the monkey bars.
You invent a game where players must flap their arms like wings.
You let your shadow show your hands how to make puppets.
You re-read your favorite books.
You jump on hotel beds.
You are loyal to any group you belong to.
You float through your sorrows with water wings.
You and your best friend pinky-swear to be nicer with thumb wars.
You study World History because you are intensely interested in the world.
You understand why religious figures go to mountains to make big decisions.
You listen to waves clapping on the waterfront of the Puget Sound, on the rocky shell-lined shores of Alki, stand by a string of foam left behind by the tide, and you say to the sky, Thank you, thank you.


A few of the awkward, sometimes heavy, substantially germy bathroom passes teachers use to deter students from leaving: toilet seats, stuffed animals, life preservers, junkyard rims and steel anvils. Maybe an unwieldy and extravagant pizza box from a dormitory way back. Fit this enormous piece of inflexible cardboard through the door and you can go to the bathroom. Take this chain link puzzle and bring it back with fingerprints.

It’s part of the humiliation of urinating in public schools. It’s the entertainment, the real reason. Admit it, you’re bored, tired, want to get up and stretch, walk around the halls and text. Go.

I know my class may sometimes be the bad one – levels of engagement so low students doodle Shawshank tunnels on desks and chant the old-timey spiritual WHAT TIME IS IT WHEN DO WE GET OUT OF HERE WHEN DO WE GET OUT? – but the secret: You get out when you want. The building is open. I’m not your parole officer. Some of your peers went. A few weeks ago they hopped the 101 to the mall to catch the sale on poppin’ strawberry lip gloss. They took the plunger as the pass. And never came back.

Chris, one of this year’s Lost Causes (Lost Boys?), turned in a final. It’s a gorgeous compilation of writing supplemented with imagery from magazines. The first piece of writing begins, “Due to my lack of creativity the following will be an ebony and ivory gallery.” It’s black and white.

I’m happy but can’t help but think this accomplishment is as much mine as his. I helped Chris one-on-one more than anyone else. I stapled his handouts to the wall so his black hole backpack wouldn’t suck them in. I hand-delivered a manila envelope of rough drafts to his bus. (Not kidding. I stood at the bus turnaround waving the envelope I found on the floor, holding up the line as I boarded each bus, asking, “Is Chris Araya here?” The kids on 56 whooped and hollered, and I walked to the back and found Chris grinning and cowering under the seat and chewing on the chopstick I hid in his hair while he was sleeping that morning.)

I didn’t teach him anything about organization and obviously enabled him, but I couldn’t stand to watch him write a new first draft every day because he couldn’t find the draft he wrote yesterday, and I wanted him to produce something, something polished, just this once. And he did. It’s beautiful. The first piece in the portfolio is called “My Law is Absolute Moral Law.”

It starts: “Things I wanna change: Black will no longer be black but ebony. White will no longer be white but ivory. Every tree will grow a different type of fruit and/or flower. Every day you will have a new name of your choosing. (You can borrow someone else’s but there will be a name transaction fee.) Hamburgers will no longer be called hamburgers but burgers. Grass stays a healthy green no matter the circumstances. Cheese never spoils. All the words I make up must be real words.”

New teachers go out in the portables, the moveable classrooms celebrating their 23rd year in the parking lot, the N-campus shacks where the carpet dampens every time it rains. (Leaks above and below. The rain somehow seeps from the ground and the kids hang their backpacks on chairs to protect their textbooks.) I heard last year a teacher here went on sick leave because the mold behind the walls was so thick she couldn’t breathe right.

See, teachers (mostly new ones) and students (mostly frosh) in the not-so-portable portables aren’t burdened by distractions like clocks, bells, or fire alarms. When there’s a fire alarm we wait for a kid from another class to open the door and WE’RE HAVING A FIRE DRILL CAN NICK COME OUT and HOW COME WE DON’T HAVE A FIRE ALARM and my yelling over THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTICE FLEXIBILITY AND PATIENCE and ADMINISTRATORS WANT TO GIVE US AS MUCH INSTRUCTIONAL TIME AS POSSIBLE.

This is where I landed. In the Stationeries N-Campus (N for “Nowhere”?). This morning I found a rat keeled over in the hallway, clutching its stomach. When I told my principal about it and said a less dead rat bee-lining for the bologna in an innocent student’s backpack would be the end of learning as we know it, she said, “I have great faith in your ability to turn it into a teachable moment.”

She’s right. If they don’t fumigate soon, I will send a note home to the parents of all my students: “So that everyone may learn and be healthy, I need you to update your child’s shots. Please call the main office and let the principal know your child’s immunization status.” I’ve been told I should be grateful to have my own room, thankful I’m not one of the teachers more portable than me, who lug grocery carts full of markers and poster supplies around campus.

I don’t listen. This is a teachable moment, and I won’t compare my happiness to the lowest common denominator.