My head swiftly turns away from the screaming, brown child I am holding in my lap, away and out torwards a jumble of limbs and hair and sweat duking it out on rusty tire swings and slides with the paint slowly cracking off year after year. It is the middle of summer in south Texas, where the intense heat does not warm but instead pulsates and beats down on your face, making you wonder exactly why the logistics of solar energy ever created life at all in this godforsaken hellhole.
I started out on this quirky mission of mine somewhat grudgingly- why spend MY precious time helping these kids when I could, like, be hanging out with friends, or hibernating before the school year starts again? I soon discovered how innocent and raw and in need of help these children were, and little by little, they began to creep into my heart, the images from class simultaneously haunting me and breaking my soul. I saw the children walk into class with shirts depicting sex, cocaine, and condoms; girls who would be afraid to look up in fear of me discovering the black eye that Daddy had given them last night. I saw kids who genuinely loved school, who would everyday ask me "What are we going to do today, Teacher?" and it would wrench my heart when they would cry the next day, telling me that their parents had failed to notice the cards and letters that they had made for them in class. How I wish I didn't have to "teach" them, tell them what's what in the world, when what they see about the world is far more profound than the adventures of Dick and Jane or the multiplication tables. There are places in America that not only parallel but exceed the corruption of many third world nations. I never thought that the kindergarten classroom would be one of them.
My memories of going through kindergarten are actually quite dull. Only sharp impressions exist, like the tang of the Granny Smith apples that I hoarded or the breathe-in, breathe-out mantra I would repeat when I raced in the hundred yard dash. I remember the Kermit the Frog beanbag pillow where I read my first book, The Boy Who Cried Wolf , and my first girl friend (we both thought that we were the first to invent the spit bubbles). Unfortunately, the dark memories still permeate through the good and make me ashamed of my inner nature: making fun of the fat kid with the "gross-out" insect collection, and the girl with the headgear that talked r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y. I shudder to remember as I see it happening now, in the classroom where I of all people am supposed to instill "moral values" into these young and impressionable minds.
But how can I ever say that I taught anyone? How can I claim to know how to guide someone in life, especially these children that have seen far more than I have, with my classic sheltered white girl upbringing? I wish I could just say "Fuck curriculum" and fling the papers out the window. I'm supposed to teach them about what a store is. A store ! As if they had never seen their parents buying shaving cream or milk at the local Wal-Mart! I hear them talking about things like the red of a ladybug's wings, or what an elephant walking on gravel might sound like. It gives me this insatiable urge to thrust a pencil and paper in front of them and to tell them to write to their little soul's content, thinking that they're the next Langston Hughes or Emily Dickinson. But no, these budding little philosophers get squelched by fake plastic money and stencil in worksheets and coloring in between the lines. Not to mention going home and smelling alcohol on the breath of their parents and anticipating the next beating.
I love how I can look at their happy little spirits and see exactly what they are going to become in life. They are so beautiful it makes me ache inside. And at the same time, I'm scared for them. Scared for me, too. All I can do is hug them and say "everything is going to be all right", and look into their big brown eyes with the utmost sincerity I can muster without sacrificing what the administration calls "professionalism".
Because who is to help them, when I still long to be looked at in that same way, still?