She came in crying and began to bite me with her words. "I don't know what you did with my sons this year, but they have not learned anything! I don't even want to send them to your class next year because you put them so far behind this year!"
I broke down crying, couldn't even answer. She was probably right.
This is what I woke up to Thursday morning: grasping at wisps of a dream. The mother (one of the nicest, funniest parents I've met in Spain) of my two boys who recently went back to the States, wagging her finger in my dreamself's face. It was awful.
Most of my life's fears and conflicts are theoretical, internal. I've never had a parent yell at me, nor a student. I've never been told my administration or fellow teachers that I'm clueless and am screwing up the next generation of comma-users. (In fact, my coworkers are so ridiculously affirming and gracious that it's unreal.) But I have this deep-seated fear that I'm not doing enough, can never do enough, can't be a good enough teacher, can't teach them enough. After Christmas break, I felt myself recovering from the weight of responsibility, thanks to a million good people who reminded me that my role is only a small part of thirteen years of education: not to be underestimated, for sure, but not to be overestimated, either.
Yet, I'm still a first-year teacher, and I suppose we're all prone to relapse.
Last night, I was jogging home from a friend's house. ("Jogging" is the loosest possible definition here. It was more like a penguin shuffle, since my hands were in my pockets to keep them warm.) The French teacher came driving by, with the older sister of one of my 8th graders in her backseat.
"I've been wanting to meet you!" big sister exclaimed as I crawled into the passenger seat. "My brother just loves English class! He comes home every day and tells us stories about stuff that happened in class, and how funny you are. He showed me his RVs, too."
(RV = Rules Violation. This kid is so polite and conscientious that he couldn't earn an RV if he tried. But he asked me to write him up one day, and I did. The infractions included "Imitating a seal" and "Calling for human justice." He was super-stoked to show his dad.)
"Aww, that's really nice," I answered, feeling a little warmer.
"He always talks about how much fun you have in class. 'And then we fell apart laughing.' That's how he describes it: fell apart laughing."
"Mostly him. All I have to do is say, 'Good morning,' and he's laughing on the floor!"
"Well, he's crazy about you. We're always hearing about English class. It's so nice to finally meet you."
As I write this, he and my 8th grade girl are sitting on beanbags, on opposite sides of the room, competing to see who will finish Anne Frank first. Every ten minutes or so, he'll peek over the desks and call, "What page are you on now? Seriously? Crikey! How do you read so fast?!"
Sometimes I wonder how much good it does, these simple things like beanbags and reading time, and I have to remember: Don't overestimate.
And don't underestimate, either.