Recently, I ran into two of the private school teachers who asked what I’d been doing in the six years since I had taught with them. I rattled off the litany of accomplishments and what I’d been busy with and we chatted cordially. We were, it needs to be said, in the middle of a department store and I knew it was the kind of polite conversation one has when catching up with acquaintances.
“So, you went over to teach at School X. Hmmm. How was that?”
Her meaning wasn’t even thinly veiled. She wanted to know, “What’s it like working with poor kids? With lots of Black kids? With those heathens and hoodlums who only come to school to fight and wreak havoc?”
It was to be a polite conversation. This really shouldn’t ruin it, but her tone set my blood to boiling in a matter of seconds. So I began the process of heaping burning coals on her head.
“It was great! I loved it there!”
“Yes, but was it different?”
I hated the way she said that word. Different. It crossed my mind to slap her right upside the head.
“Absolutely not. Twelve year olds at one school are the same as twelve year olds at another. They all have the same basic needs and deserve an education. They are all teachable.”
Not the answer she wanted, I assume. Not what she hoped to hear that perhaps I feared for my life on a daily basis and that I’d been caught up in a fight or two and had to put someone in a headlock. That was, of course, true. But she was positively dripping with anticipation of hearing this. She nearly drooled to get The Goods On Poor Public Educators.
“So, you left there. Where are you now?”
I was under the impression, what with all her salivating, that she already knew. She had heard that I pretty much followed those Poor Kids to the high school where I am currently a guidance dean so I offered it up to her minus any fanfare.
“Oh. WOW. You’re there?” There was no way she wanted to hide her incredulous response. She reminded me of the viper news reporters chomping at the bit to get a juicy story.
“Yeah, I love it. It’s great.”
“Well, I hear bad things about that place. What are YOUR thoughts on working there?”
While I am ever conscious of the fact that I represent my school, my district, my city, and my career in education I know that I am to always be positive. It pains me to give anyone ammunition with which to shoot all educators. Yet, here I was in the middle of a store browsing the aisles for sweater sets. My arms were full of a couple of outfits and I had yet to try them on and didn’t want this to ruin my day.
But I didn’t even have to reply to her.
Out of nowhere a woman came around the corner. She had been listening to our conversation on the other side of the dress rack and came to confront the woman to whom I was speaking.
“What’s the matter with you!? Am I to understand that YOU’RE A TEACHER? There is nothing wrong with where she teaches or works or whatever she does there. My daughter went there and just graduated and I was skeptical of sending her there because of PEOPLE LIKE YOU who bash everything in this town when you don’t know anything about it. Why don’t you take your ass over there and see for yourself? My kids have gotten great educations at both those schools this lady just mentioned!”
It occurs to me that, obviously, I am This Lady.
But This Lady, the one who rocked my world by coming to my defense and the defense of all whom I care to represent, was now my favorite person on the planet. Would she balk if I kissed her full on the lips? Would she hate it if I picked her up and twirled her around the store? Could I send her on an all-expenses paid cruise to the Caribbean?
This Lady, me, will forever be grateful for that bitch slap moment when I didn’t have to sigh and explain myself ad nauseam about why I do what I do. The relief I felt after watching this stranger unleash on former colleagues was thoroughly satisfying.
To The Lady who saved me from having to defend my passion for educating ALL STUDENTS: you are my heroine. I didn’t even buy a dress or those sweater sets. You also made me restructure all future “polite conversations.”