Friday, July 7, 2017

Summer School 8: You are sunshine and hope.

Originally published June 15, 2017

On Thursday morning I go straight from my car to the classroom because I have some treasure for  give Mr. D*  that I don't actually feel like hauling up and down stairs in platform sandals that are just a wee bit loose.

The classroom lights were on and Mr. D*s backpack was laying on his desk, but he wasn't there.

No problem.

I lined up  8 crispy pieces of bacon on top of a paper towel next to a package of Poptarts (that's how I roll, judge me later) along with the reusable gray water bottle filled with icewater, then turn on the computer and the projector.

No folders today; I have 8 essays per student x 80 students to grade in the next few days before they write their all-essay final and I'm hesitant to create more work for any of us.

The classroom is cold (again) and I can't wait to get out of there and head up to my office, so I don't wait for Mr. D*, and never discuss with him what I packed in the green bag that I left under his desk.

He is clearly an adult; he can see it himself, I don't need to point each thing out.

Anyway,  if it were me - and it could be me, and it could be you, it could be any of us, y'all, ANY of us --  I'd rather the joy of unpacking it myself.

After that I make my way down the hall and up the stairs to my office.

There is a Target bag hanging on my office door. I peek inside and see a piece of paper with a smiley face that says "Mr. D*" along with yogurt, bananas and other goods.

 I don't know who sent it, but it could be any of us, any of you, anybody, everybody.

 I think of former students (yes!) or maybe it's my colleague who... (yes!) or someone who was formerly homeless (that HAS to be it!) or a veteran (of course, that's IT).

Whoever you are, thank you.  You are sunshine and hope.

The world is a better place because people do small things like sending hungry lonely people food and love instead of waiting to change the entire world at once.

 I took care of paperwork things quickly in my office and got right back to the classroom. When I got there Mr. D* was at his desk with his notebook out, copying terms that were being projected in the front of the room.  His desk was clear except for that notebook - I did not ask about the fate of the bacon and Poptarts, nor did he mention them, because that's how we are rolling today.

You have a delivery from a secret angel!  I announce and he looks through the bag and right away knows he would like the yogurt.

I offer to open it for him (life is so much easier with 2 hands, y'all, don't take this for granted) and he dives right in.

I try to explain to him that I don't know who it is from, but that lots of people all over the place know about him and wish him well.

That makes him smile, and now more students are coming into the classroom, and we fall into the lecture that is almost the end of the semester.

I cannot leave the class in 1877; they have to know what came next in the South, they have to know about Poll Taxes, Literacy Tests, Grandfather Clauses and (of course) Plessy v. Ferguson, including a discussion of the the concepts of "colored" and "black."

Before I go over the Plessy story,  I flash pictures on the projector and ask the class -- is this person colored? -- is this one?

 They shout out all sorts of  answers and I let them say yes and no and other and why and then I tell them that they are looking at my mom (and other people, which you would know if you came to class)  and the whole room feels a little happy to have gone through this.

Halfway through the lecture, right past the part about the Grandfather Clause, Mr. D* tells the class that when he was born they wrote "Negro" on his birth certificate. You could have heard a pin drop in that room. He often speaks out in class, and everything he says is important and shows he knows things beyond the scope of the class and can tell what I am cropping out from a particular lecture, and more than once he has said things so funny the class giggles and I have to fight to get attention back from him.  This makes us both happy, and we will miss this when the semester ends.

 I continue lecture and promise them that class is almost at the finale, almost to the point we have been building to since I began their story way back with Isabel and Ferdinand.

 I know exactly where I am taking them -- a quick leap to the other side of the Spanish-American War. I know which slide I will end with and what exactly I want them to take from the class. If I do it right, the entire semester will be memorable like a season of House of Cards.

After class I go to the parking lot to get a huge tray pulled pork, eight packs of bread, a 12 pack of soda and a bunch of cookies for tonight's Veterans Village that was being donated by a student who can't come to dinner and serve.  She gives me the things to put in my car and fridge, I walk away a little bit sad that I can't share these dinners with Mr. D*, but that's just how things work.

I still have another class to teach,  the class where I go in and just hang out with students for 20 minutes before lecture.  It's a whole different vibe. This class is more serious and it moves faster.  I just taught in this classroom with different students a few weeks ago, and literally there is a M'Kaila in the same chair that Makayla sat.  There is a new Courtney who takes meticulous notes like the old Courtney.

No one sits where Tim sat in the front row, two rows off from the window row.

There is a Jason who sits where AJ sat,  and just like AJ he smiles a lot, never laughs and never misses a single class. There is a new AJ who is nothing like the old AJ but is also awesome.

There are several self-identified Gators who will be in Gainesville in a few weeks, along with a guy who sometimes comes to class late and walks down a row of desks to find a seat and realizes his seat is left handed and he can't get in it from that side and has to walk back to the front -- where I am lecturing -- and then down another row. He wears red shoes and his handwriting is tiny tiny tiny.

There is a girl who sits in the back and genuinely must think I cannot see her or she would try to look like she cared a bit about what I'm saying.

Today a student walked into class, dug into her pocket and said, "I have a rock for you from Dr. F*, he said you are always sending rocks, now you need one and this is from his grandmother's garden!"  I almost cried.  This has to be a sign, an omen, a marker that today has gravity and should be remembered.

After class I go to Publix and get all things I needed to make for the Veterans; hours later I arrive at Veterans Village and 5 students are waiting.  Minutes later another arrives and another and we have all sorts of chicken, pork, spaghetti, rice, green beans, a rainbow of soda, mac and cheese, chili and  with a table of assorted cookies and single-serve ice cream and a whole bunch of fruit-kabobs that the veterans loved. More than one veteran stopped to say thank you and point out the one thing they don't get enough of is fresh fruit.  I cheer my student on -- I can't imagine how long she spent putting blueberries and raspberries and watermelon and strawberries  on sharp sticks, bless her heart -- and commit to always bringing fruit.

 My students rock, and if it weren't for these dinners, I am not sure I would see so many of them being themselves and giving what they have to give instead of sitting curled up in a chair taking notes wishing I would slow down lecture before their hand falls off.

Dinner is an overall hit and soon enough we have cleared everything and the Veterans are off eating dinner we can finally talk. Four volunteers are left by the time we are dumping trash.

 I tell them the story of how I'm writing about Mr. D*, and I tell them the story of him giving me recipes and I tell them things in the story that I haven't written here because they aren't for me to tell.

 They are as shocked and saddened as I was and am.

None of that shock and sadness will keep us from doing the good work that needs to be done.