Sometimes I cannot imagine my life without teaching. Specifically, teaching the sweet, bright, and crusty-eyed misfits that inhabit the kooky world of Nonesuch, where redwood trees shade our cozy fire-lighted schoolhouse. As financial woes threaten our sacred plot of bliss and love and havoc, as I imagine life beyond Bones Road, as I consider teaching in the big bad scary world of college or, dare I even think it, public school, I find myself relishing the teenagers I spend my days with.
Like Marisa, who brought me a bundle of freshly-ripped scallions from her garden, left them on my table in the morning. On the wipe board she'd written the couplet "What is this life, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare." Marisa has short wild hair the color of strawberry lip gloss; she's got dirt under her fingernails and hairy armpits; she volunteers, reads voraciously, and wanders through Santa Rosa's scrubby blond hills. When she's really passionate about an opinion in class, she blushes, and it reminds me of me, except I can only wish I were a tenth as savvy and smart as she when I was fourteen.
Like Mike, who has resisted reading novels for years, trudging through the rhetorical swamp of "The Color Purple" like a soldier who's lost all his ammo. In the past, he's gone months without doing homework. But yesterday he helped to lead the class discussion of "Slaughterhouse Five," his philosophical mind accessing Kurt Vonnegut with ease and beauty. He even researched the three types of irony. Our discussion ran five minutes over, and still, we could have kept going and going.
Like Jackie, who French braids my hair and draws pictures of me with a huge loud mouth and unruly locks. At fifteen, she's an old pro at dumpster diving, scoring bags of Traditional Medicinal tea that staff and students drink throughout the day. Sometimes she "dumpsters" a frilly hoodie she thinks I might like, or a copy of Dante's Inferno. I have never witnessed her being unkind to anyone, ever.
Like Jora, who is seventeen going on thirty-five, with knowledge and experience that would make Madonna blush. She wears tight low-cut shirts, swears like a sailor, tells me when my body odor is out of control. She recently wrote an essay exploring how she, unlike most of her cohorts, doesn't smoke pot; she's naturally high. It's easy to forget she's a kid. But then I notice her smooth sincere face in class, absorbing my mini-lecture about "The Scarlet Letter," patiently waiting for her turn to talk, excitedly, about what she thinks Hester and Dimmesdale will do, and why they love each other so.
Like Cody, who has given me a hug every day for the past four and a half years, since he was a tiny shaggy-haired sixth grader who would jump out of my classroom closet to scare me. As a tenth grader, no amount of black T-shirts, visor-tipped beanies, or baritone can mask his pure essential sweetness, his eagerness to get back to school when he's away for more than a week.