3: Doing Something Right

3: Doing Something Right

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Doing Something Right

When you see that many people with a smile on their face, then you must be doing something right.

~Greg Norman

The last bell rang and I sank immediately into the chair behind my desk, defeated. I mumbled a few goodbyes to my students as they shuffled out of the classroom, too exhausted to do more. Everything hurt: my legs, my head, my heart, my pride. I had been on autopilot all day, and now that the day was over, I had no choice but to confront my feelings.

I was so unhappy.

The realization hit me like a wave. I watched students talking in the hallway, pulling backpacks out of lockers, leaving school with their friends, and I tried to pinpoint exactly why I was so miserable. It had been a tough couple of weeks. Two students had been killed in gang-related shootings; one of my twelfth graders had left the state to protect himself; and no one would tell the teachers what was going on with these gang wars.

I had noticed a sudden change in my students as a result of these events, even in those who had no direct ties to the gangs. They were all angry, restless, and full of despair. Tamara blew up in class over the D on her essay. Markus sat at his desk with a blank look in his eyes, refusing to do any work. Asia burst into tears and had to leave the room. The delicate atmosphere I had worked so hard to create all year had been shattered, and I was starting to feel hopeless.

What had made me think that I could teach on the west side of Chicago? Here I was, a twenty-three-year-old white girl in her second year of teaching, thinking that I could make a difference. I wanted to laugh at myself, and I would have, had it not been for the lump hardening like cement in the back of my throat.

I may have covered up my frustration with a smile, but I couldn’t cover up the dark circles under my eyes, no matter how much make-up I used. I may have pretended to be older than I was, to assert some sort of authority, but I couldn’t pretend to understand the hardships that my kids faced every day. I may have lied to my family about how completely fine I was, but I couldn’t keep lying to myself.

Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher.

The thought brought tears to my eyes. Just then, one of the tenth graders walked into the room with a smile stretched across his face. I stared at my computer screen and blinked back the tears as quickly as I could.

“Hi, Ms. Raicu,” he said, not noticing my red eyes. I had gotten very good at hiding my emotions lately.

“Hi, honey,” I said, smiling back. “How was your day?”

Lamar wasn’t one of my students, but he had made a habit of coming to check in with me every day. I don’t remember how it started, but I always looked forward to his visits. It took my mind off other things, and I genuinely enjoyed our conversations.

“It was fine,” he said. “Mr. D brought in his turtles today.”

We talked about the turtles, the awful burgers that had been served for lunch, and the upcoming field trip to the zoo. Still, for some reason, I couldn’t shake my sadness.

There was a knock at my door, and John walked in. He worked at a neighboring school and had gone through teacher training with me.

“John!” I exclaimed, jumping out of my seat. “How are you? I haven’t seen you in forever!” I gave him a hug and introduced him to Lamar.

“Nice to meet you,” said John. “I’m just visiting.”

He looked around my room and smiled.

“Your classroom’s great, Laura,” he said. “Very bright and welcoming.” He took a moment to look at the quotes on the door, the posters on the wall, my students’ projects on the bulletin board, and the thank-you notes I had received from my kids over the course of the year.

“Looks like you’re doing something right,” he said, tapping the notes.

“How’s teaching been?” I asked, and he gave me a look that I understood all too well.

“This teaching thing is not what we were expecting, huh?” he asked, and we both laughed. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief being in the presence of someone who completely understood what this crazy field was all about.

John suddenly turned to look at Lamar, who was silently taking in our conversation.

“So, Lamar,” said John, “what do you like most about Ms. Raicu?”

I blushed at the unexpected question, but Lamar took it seriously. He thought about it for a few seconds before formulating his response.

“Sometimes,” he said slowly, “the only reason I come to school is because of Ms. Raicu. She’s always here for me.”

That was all he needed to say.

I held in my tears until we said our goodbyes. Then, like a waterfall, I let them run down my cheeks and chin. They were tears of pain, joy, and relief. I stood like that for a few minutes, staring at the bulletin board full of thank-yous, letting myself cry.

Ms. Raicu, thank you for being the best teacher ever, said Britney’s note. Even when you’re hard on me, I know you love me, said Camron’s note. I’m going to miss you so much when I graduate, said Mikayla’s note.

I read every single note, all twenty-four of them. Then I wiped my eyes, took a deep breath, and smiled the first real smile in three weeks. John’s words rang in my head: “Looks like you’re doing something right.”

Maybe I was.

~Laura Raicu

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