Feb. 12th, 2011

applespice: it is a sparkly fairy ([clemence] blush)
Sometimes I feel like a cosmonaut touching down on another world, my toes bumping against unfamiliar terrain. I know the language of the locals, have observed the varying cultures as they rub and scrape along each other, can parse the slang and with a little effort make sense of words I do not understand, but I will never fit in. I will always be the spaceman, hovering somewhere in the incomprehensible spaces between.

Nowhere is this clearer than in my professional life. Teaching high school is like rattling around on the inside of a cultural kaleidoscope - the disparate pieces of glass clunking together to form eye-bending, mind-twisting patterns.

On the one side, there are the teachers - ideally impartial fonts of knowledge and caring, leading lights for every child. Realistically? Biased and baggaged and often petty. Often I feel obliged to defend them as a uniform whole, as I do know many educators who are paragons of generosity and open-mindedness, though I also know all too well how unintentionally twisted they can be. Sometimes I am one of them, pushing back my helmet to find that I can breathe their air. Sometimes their words pound senselessly against the plastic bubble, an impenetrable toxic fog.

"She told me she was raped, but she was drunk! I tell these girls again and again..."
"I don't care if one of my students is gay, I just don't want them talking about it."
"I don't know his name! Paco, Juan, Jose - something like that."
"These black girls, it's no wonder stereotypes exist."
"You know they just have babies to get on welfare, just like their mothers."

I try and speak up, but their eyes glaze and brows wrinkle - as though I'm emitting nothing more than a series of insensible beeps and whirs and gibbered phrases. Isolated again, drifting off on a cosmic wind.

On the other side are the students, at my place of work a nearly 30-30-30 split of White, Black, and Hispanic (bubble kids, at risk, low expectation - titles placed on their heads like rotted laurels, and we wonder why they glare at us with sharp-cornered eyes and claim continually, "I can't.") A tapestry of community, language, culture, faith; sometimes even in the weave and sometimes snagged, sometimes ripped outright.

Among them I am liked, a kind of otherworldly oddity. I understand them (perhaps, being young, my world is closer in the planetary alignment to theirs), but in small ways I am strange, as though I hover continually between being one of the untrusted cluster of authority they rail against and being a teenager myself. Am I one of those or one of them? No one can say.

"Nobody likes me, Miss. All the boys want is a yellow bone girl, and I'm too dark."
"He did some bad things to me when I was little. It's in the past, I'm over it, please don't tell anybody."
"I got a fake ID, Miss, you want to see?"
"Who cares? He's retarded!"
"I got wasted this weekend!"

Again I open my mouth to protest, and again the stream of ear-deadening babble issues forth. Their eyes squint and slide away. Rocketman in flight.

Is there any way to bridge the chasm between them - bring their worlds together, make them sensible? Is it pretentious to even want to? Youth and age never intersect entirely, never understand each other, never "get it." Is this that, or something more insidious, indicative of rifts that have never closed - and never will if they are pawned off as being harmless results of an age gap?

Will we ever speak the same language?
applespice: it is a sparkly fairy ([clemence] blush)
Sometimes I feel like a cosmonaut touching down on another world, my toes bumping against unfamiliar terrain. I know the language of the locals, have observed the varying cultures as they rub and scrape along each other, can parse the slang and with a little effort make sense of words I do not understand, but I will never fit in. I will always be the spaceman, hovering somewhere in the incomprehensible spaces between.

Nowhere is this clearer than in my professional life. Teaching high school is like rattling around on the inside of a cultural kaleidoscope - the disparate pieces of glass clunking together to form eye-bending, mind-twisting patterns.

On the one side, there are the teachers - ideally impartial fonts of knowledge and caring, leading lights for every child. Realistically? Biased and baggaged and often petty. Often I feel obliged to defend them as a uniform whole, as I do know many educators who are paragons of generosity and open-mindedness, though I also know all too well how unintentionally twisted they can be. Sometimes I am one of them, pushing back my helmet to find that I can breathe their air. Sometimes their words pound senselessly against the plastic bubble, an impenetrable toxic fog.

"She told me she was raped, but she was drunk! I tell these girls again and again..."
"I don't care if one of my students is gay, I just don't want them talking about it."
"I don't know his name! Paco, Juan, Jose - something like that."
"These black girls, it's no wonder stereotypes exist."
"You know they just have babies to get on welfare, just like their mothers."

I try and speak up, but their eyes glaze and brows wrinkle - as though I'm emitting nothing more than a series of insensible beeps and whirs and gibbered phrases. Isolated again, drifting off on a cosmic wind.

On the other side are the students, at my place of work a nearly 30-30-30 split of White, Black, and Hispanic (bubble kids, at risk, low expectation - titles placed on their heads like rotted laurels, and we wonder why they glare at us with sharp-cornered eyes and claim continually, "I can't.") A tapestry of community, language, culture, faith; sometimes even in the weave and sometimes snagged, sometimes ripped outright.

Among them I am liked, a kind of otherworldly oddity. I understand them (perhaps, being young, my world is closer in the planetary alignment to theirs), but in small ways I am strange, as though I hover continually between being one of the untrusted cluster of authority they rail against and being a teenager myself. Am I one of those or one of them? No one can say.

"Nobody likes me, Miss. All the boys want is a yellow bone girl, and I'm too dark."
"He did some bad things to me when I was little. It's in the past, I'm over it, please don't tell anybody."
"I got a fake ID, Miss, you want to see?"
"Who cares? He's retarded!"
"I got wasted this weekend!"

Again I open my mouth to protest, and again the stream of ear-deadening babble issues forth. Their eyes squint and slide away. Rocketman in flight.

Is there any way to bridge the chasm between them - bring their worlds together, make them sensible? Is it pretentious to even want to? Youth and age never intersect entirely, never understand each other, never "get it." Is this that, or something more insidious, indicative of rifts that have never closed - and never will if they are pawned off as being harmless results of an age gap?

Will we ever speak the same language?

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