Thursday, May 8, 2008

Art Blog: Tell me about the Rabbits

I have always had this thing. I want to be known and seen as an ARTIST, not a teacher. I have spoken before about my “day job”. I find it ironic that when I began teaching (begrudgingly), I started getting so much attention and notice. I won awards and accolades. Sheree became the great teacher. Sheree the great artist got lost in the shuffle. I didn’t like that, so for the past few years I denied that part of me. I don’t talk about it. Of course, I go to work each day, but I might as well be going to dig ditches. I just don't discuss my job. I stopped corresponding with other teachers. I stopped doing educational research. I focused on my art. That is where my heart is. If I was going to have a tombstone, I would want it to read “Sheree the ARTIST”. That is my own perception of myself and that is my primary legacy.
Every so often this plan to establish and galvanize my identity gets pushed aside. Since I teach kids with challenges, I am often disappointed. Today I learned that one of my students was charged with armed robbery. He robbed a pharmacy for drugs. I saw the surveillance tape. I saw his mug shot online. I look at him and just want to puke. He was one kid I thought had a chance. I thought he was smarter. I thought he knew better.
The artist in me wants to throw my hands up and say “I told you so!!! Society is totally screwed up!” The teacher in me feels so sad. I have worked with this student for years. He was a great student. Yes, he had issues, but there was some residue of hope. Now, all those perceptions are gone. This is exactly why I wonder why I do this kind of work. But then……..
Reality started to set in, then today something else happened. Some of the kids I teach are thugs in training. Some are truly emotionally disturbed. Some just don’t fit into the school system for multiple reasons, so they put them at our school. One such student is “A”. He is a huge guy. He is autistic. Every time I look at him, I think of Lennie in the Steinbeck novel “Of Mice and Men”. I expect him to blurt out “Tell me about the rabbits George” at any given moment.
Today “A” and I worked on a project together. As we were working he mumbled something I couldn’t understand. I told him to speak more clearly so I could understand what he wanted. He then said “Ms. Rensel, what are budget cuts?” I was shocked that he even asked that question. However, I told him budget cuts are when you are getting a certain amount of money and then someone says you don’t get that same amount anymore. So you have to stop buying so much stuff because you don’t have as much money.” He looked at me. I looked at him. I said ““A”, why did you ask me this question?” He began to flap his hands and said “I heard that because of budget cuts the government is taking away our art classes!!” This remark was akin to a bucket of ice water being thrown on me. First, I was shocked he could even comprehend or connect the relationships. Second, I was floored he was so concerned. I threw my arms around his robust waist and gave him a huge hug. I told him “Don’t worry “A”. I am not going anywhere. We will still have art at this school. If they tell us no, we will fight for it, together, right?” He smiled a big, goofy smile. I did too. I realized this is why I continue to teach. I need to be there to tell kids about the rabbits.

I rarely publish my teacher website.
This is the link to our project gallery.
I am doing it now in memory of the good times and good work I have shared with my students.
May they find peace in their lives.
They are in my mind and heart always.
Click pic to see student work. These are the kids some people say CAN'T.
Well, look at the work. Who would have thought?


Martha Marshall said...

Sheree, you literally brought tears today. I have been there and had those moments, even if only for a brief time. They break your heart and heal it at the same time.

Sheree Rensel said...

Oh Martha! I didn't mean to make you cry! :-(
However now that you mention it, I just realized this moment, I haven't been able to cry over either scenario. I felt like crying when I saw my student's mugshot. I really felt so, so sad. I didn't shed a tear (yet).
Then, I wanted to cry tears of joy when "A" said those things. I think I am still in shock about all that too.
I am not sure if I am just getting jaded or both situations startled me so, I am still digesting them.
Yep, stuff like this breaks your heart and brings joy all at the same time. You are right about that!