luminous things: on being a (not-quite-yet) teacher.

I’m sitting in my bedroom, with its soft beiges and greys and blues (colors I picked because I need a quiet haven), soft lamplight to my left and a puppy cuddled up right next to me. “Friends” is on Netflix, so naturally, it’s playing in the background.

And next door, my neighbors–perfectly kind and fun but also perfectly oblivious–are blasting (and I mean BLASTING) Christmas music from God-knows-where. I mean, I can hear “White Christmas” like I am listening to it on the radio in my room.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is the universe is not really helping me de-stress.

Ever since I walked through the door this afternoon at 4:30, I have been trying to get work done. But it’s like my brain is floating. I am exhausted. I am stressed, and I know it. But a lot of good that self-awareness is doing because I can’t seem to do anything about it. I have a headache.

I have given up trying to be productive, and I’m just being. At least for now. I’m meditating on luminous things.

I am student teaching right now. I’m working as an educational assistant, too. In my thoughts at every moment of every day are students. Seventh and eighth grade faces and names, behaviors, theories about how each of them are doing, relived conversations in my head combined with regret about not paying more attention to so-and-so when they asked such-and-such question, frustration about a student’s response when I thought my redirection was spot-on, disappointment in myself for not being perfect, and reevaluation of every waking, working moment of the school day.

“Nick,” I tell my husband, “get used to this.”

This being a spacy look in my eye and an insane amount of love and concern and prayerful consideration for my kids that aren’t my kids, and constant self-criticism, and the incessant asking for feedback about lesson plans and projects and activities, and complaints about the inappropriate things little so-and-so, bless his heart, said to me again today, and the accidental use of “teacher voice” when talking to Nick, and the god-awful annoying fact that I say, Hey, I work with middle school students every day, okay? whenever anyone mentions anything about their job being tough or their day being hard.

(The “I work with middle schoolers, okay?” thing is annoying because I almost always say it like it’s 100% difficult and exhausting and 0% something I absolutely adore and find overwhelmingly rewarding, when it’s much closer to a 50/50 split.)

I opened my photos on my iPhone today and discovered my students took an ungodly amount of selfies on it without me knowing. Should I be angry? Eh, maybe (like, how many times a day have I said, “Y’all have no boundaries!” I’ll tell you: about 37.), but honestly: these kids will hold such a special place in my heart forever, and that’s why their countless selfies make me happy.

We’re doing a poetry unit right now, and it’s my favorite unit of the year. The students are eager and engaged, even though they all say, “Ugh, I hate poetry, it’s the WORST!” They constantly ask us questions. Some of them hover around my desk, looking at my Book of Luminous Things (a poetry anthology) and asking me what I think about their haiku or their sonnets.

They point out Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” in the Realms of Gold anthology and chuckle uncomfortably until I ask them to tell me what it’s about, and they find their voice for a second. I recommend Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall” and smile when one student recites it from memory. I gasp and clap when they tell me that “that good night” is a euphemism for death! I gush and rave about Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman to kids who have yet to appreciate that kind of wordly beauty–y’know, just in case some day, five years from now, they remember the crazy hipster student teacher who teared up talking about the powerful play and contributing verses and they are moved to read “Love for This Book” or Leaves of Grass.

Okay, so, some of the poems these kids write are intentionally ridiculous (“No, you can’t use shart in your poem, and if this was just a ploy to get me to say that word, it worked”), but I could listen to them say ridiculous all day as long as they’re working with poetry and words. (Is that the naive words of a newbie? Mm, probably. “No, you can’t use shat either. Why? Because it’s the past tense of shit, and I can’t believe you just said it aloud.”)

These kids challenge me every single day (jesusmaryandjoseph, do they challenge me), and I’ve learned so much from them. What it means to show respect even when you’re angry (because I have to choose to do that so many times a day, I can’t even tell you). To be patient when people are going crazy around you (oh, bless the hearts of those students–you know the ones–that just grin and patiently bear their peers’ descent into insanity on a day before a break). What it feels like to love and care unconditionally (because, jesusmaryandjoseph, they work my last nerve, but they are so right when they say teasingly, “Oh, come on, you know you love us!). How healing it is to laugh even when things are stressful and hard and daunting. What it means to be truly, whole-heartedly proud of someone and the wonderful things they’ve accomplished.

I’ve learned what it’s like to be comfortable in my own skin (because sometimes middle schoolers are are just plain unabashedly goofy and ridiculous, at times immature and inappropriate, and at other times ageless and wise, and I just plain love it).

I’ve learned to be okay with something less than perfection.

I’ve learned that when I have rough days, I can still show up, and I am capable of shining a light on the good things: the true and honorable and just things, the pure and lovely and commendable things, the excellent and praise-worthy things.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Truth be told, my heart is full with those things. Luminous things. And sometimes big, bulky, ugly things like stress and fatigue block the light.

Truth be told, I am stressed beyond belief, and I am terrified, and I am uncertain, and I am weary. But my heart is full of luminous things anyway, so I won’t let the shadowy, bulky things get in the way.

Truth be told, dark things and shadows can’t really squelch light and luminous things, and that is the good news I must choose to remember today and every day.

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