I had a pretty good feeling that the temperance experiment would not survive my return to work. Consider the good feeling justified. I teach English in a high school where easily forty percent of the population are disadvantaged - economically, culturally, linguistically, or socially. This has easily been the hardest thing I've ever done and I doubt I'll ever again intentionally take on anything that I know in advance will be this difficult. The last year and a half I have been to hell and back and to hell again, where I currently reside with the Great Satan's envoys Monday through Friday. While I bitch a lot about my job, I relish the challenge because I am a stubborn cuss, and I'm not about to let a bunch of punks stop me from doing what I know I can.
What gets me though, are the situations they bring to school. A foster home girl who threatens that she'll fight another girl from her home if the girl continues to spread information from my student's personal file to others who harass her about it. Could you blame her? Well, some of you could - and yet, she has had absolutely no training in how to settle an argument, retain pride, and avoid violence all at the same time. A boy who sasses me relentlessly, doesn't understand anything I explain in class, and doesn't do even the most fundamental things I ask him to do to help him understand me. Do I tolerate him, love him, care for him? I suppose I ought to. It's not his fault his loser mother drank while she was pregnant, but nor is it mine, and now I and twenty-nine other people, all of us with our own loads to bear, have to deal with his inability to behave himself in a classroom. I can't count the number of times I have screamed to the heavens once they've left the room, "God, kids, just let me fucking teach!" I punched a wall and must have broken a bone in my hand, because it still hurts every day, a physical reminder of how far I have let them intrude into my peace of mind. The bitching, while therapeutic, robs me of a temperate heart, but realistically, what else would my response be when I have to tell a child of fifteen not to stick a pencil into his veins, and then, explain why not?
I could go on so much longer. But I cannot afford to do that any more. With their hunger for acceptance, their lack of understanding, their desire for success, and their desperate need of a swift sharp kick in the collective ass, they could easily take over my life. I know when I've bored the family with too many anecdotes about the only thing I do lately. I adopted a cat, Theo, last summer and now I alternate between talking about work and talking about the cat, which is quickly losing its charm. (The talking, not the cat.)
This is not all I am. I am much more than my success at my job, such as it is. I have talents and sensibilities and knowledge I never use while I quash adolescent rebellion. So I've got to stop making the stakes so high. I went to a yoga class today and actively pushed all thoughts of the kids out of my head. I felt so delicious later - lithe, graceful, settled. Not in a year and a half has this happened. Well, not on a weekday anyway.
Hopefully yoga twice a week will have effects on both my body and my mind, including an increase of temperance. I've certainly noticed where I failed to show it, but woefully after the fact. My mission at work is to be more temperate in heart: less angry, more determined; less reactive, more even-keeled. There are moments when my royal bitch pants are called for, but I will try to determine more accurately when those moments occur. I will be temperate in how I respond to their behavior after they're gone. When I see the light in my foster home girl's eyes as she raises her hand, when I read the essay of the boy who has the courage to write about his struggles with a gang, when I read the poems of the girl who is learning the magic variability of a new language, I know I am capable of mastering myself.