My desert-island song might be “Carry Me, Ohio” by Sun Kil Moon (aka Mark Kozelek); that is, the one song that I could potentially listen to for the rest of my life and nothing else. The song has these repetitive arpeggiated chords that give it a hypnotic quality, like train wheels on old tracks. The words in the verses blend together in his mumbling delivery but it’s the sun coming out on a winter morning when he hits the chorus: “Heal her soul, carry her, my angel, Ohio.” And “angel” is in this beautiful, struggling falsetto. Few people can sound as wistful and soul hurt as he can.
So the reason I bring this up – aside from the fact that I could out-word-count Proust about this song – is because the bridge says,
“Sorry that I could never love you back / Sorry I could never care enough these last days.”
I’m feeling that way a little bit today. I had the opportunity to soothe and reassure someone with false emotion. How much would one little lie have hurt, right? Wouldn’t it have been simpler just to says, “of course I love you guys!” glossing over it with fake cheeriness? But no, everything must always be like peeling a turtle with a shrimp fork.
A student asked me, “Do you love kids?”
I replied, “Not all of them.”
But he wasn’t through; he pushed on, “I mean, do you love us, kids?”
I paused, heavy pause with everyone looking at me. He rephrased, “Do you like us?”
“Let’s say I care about you and leave it at that,” I finally said. He still carried this slightly worried look, slightly deflated. I could have gotten a sunny smile by telling a tiny lie but I chose to tell the absolute, probably unnecessary, truth.
This coming at the end of a day when I told my boss that I wouldn’t be returning next year because I can truthfully say that I loathe teaching, as a noun and a verb, now that I’ve tried every possible permutation – large group, small group, general ed, special ed, literature, reading, science, algebra, pre-algebra, remedial math, on grade level, above grade level, below grade level, middle school, high school, public, private, charter, magnet. I am confident enough to say that any teaching experience I have not yet had would be equally repugnant as those I have already tried.
Some of this has to do with the emphasis placed on relationship building with students. I am reserved by nature. I am careful about those with whom I choose to build relationships. The key word is “choose.” I do not get any choice at school. I am expected to build close, personal relationships with every student I teach. Not only do I want to but I need to maintain emotional distance in order to sustain myself in this job. I literally can’t get involved and keep doing this for more than two weeks. Honestly, I can’t convince myself that I am obligated to love, like or even care about any one person. I will love, like and care about those I choose!
More than just the relationship-building component, I actually dislike the process of teaching. I am more interested in learning; implementation isn’t important to me. I like abstract ideas, rather than concrete realities. I am working with exactly the wrong population for that. I also have this constant low-level feeling that I’m an impostor – I don’t belong here and I don’t fit.
This turned into more of a screed than I intended – good writers show restraint – but I can’t even really explain how uncomfortable the expectation that I should care made me. I am paid to teach; I suppose I am paid to care. It’s not very authentic, is it? Wouldn’t anyone rather be loved out of genuine affection than duty?