Monday, March 26, 2007

Happiness Is An Extreme

So many souls I encounter in the field of education are pursuing happiness. It may be the happiness of “molding” young minds, of meeting the goals of No Child Left Behind, of receiving a paycheck, of pleasing administration, of being in control of something, of, of, of… and so on. Somewhere inside of me I’m sure there is a quest for happiness. I’m also convinced that happiness is an extreme. The other end of the spectrum is as vague to me as the definition of happiness. Not yet have I encountered a person that has achieved happiness. There appears to always be something missing or something else to pursue. My students often expound on the things that could make them happy. Their happiness meter may peak with the acquisition of a new girl or boyfriend, acquiring the same type clothing their peers are wearing so they can also be individuals, planning a party that seldom materializes, a daily breakfast, a caring parent, a parent, and so on, and so on.

Jerry's happiness goal is the National Football League. Regardless of the number of times we discuss the relatively few players in the NFL compared to the population of the country, he has no appreciation of the long shot against him playing professional football. He also sees no connection between playing in the NFL and not playing football in middle school and now not playing in high school.

Taylor's happiness goal is to continue as a country boy with minimum responsibilities. The last of this is in direct conflict with the pending birth of his baby by his fourteen-year-old girlfriend. Taylor makes no connection between earning a high school diploma and securing a descent paying job to support his new baby.

Tamela's happiness goal revolves around "true love". In this case her boyfriend, Won-Ton-Soup, of five years is the one she keeps going back to after they breakup. However, Walter, is the one she likes. Walter is her boyfriend's friend. They hang together, they steal together, they get high together, all three dislike Tamela. Her happiness goal continues to be elusive even after telling Walter she likes him.

Every month for the past two school years my happiness goal has been to think about leaving teaching. I know I'm exaggerating, but the amount of useless, government imposed documentation continues to rob me of my enthusiasm. Each time I sink into the paperwork doldrums one of students seems to pull me up. This time I can thank Donald. He is severely disabled, can't talk, and I suspect has no comprehension that he is in school. He has been away from high school for about six months and I expected he would never be back. Children's Services had placed him with his aunt in another town some 60 miles away. I was surprised that his mother had arranged a parole from the state prison and had been awarded custody again. She walked him to school today. He stood in the hallway grasping a pencil in his left fist. He loves holding pencils. I saw him and he reached out with his right hand, and grabbed my coat.

"Hello, Donald," I said.

"Ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee," he replied! After the ear-splitting greeting he followed me into his classroom.

Donald dedicates most of his school day walking around the CDC classroom looking at different objects. Sometimes, those objects are other students food. Once a food object is spotted most often it will disappear into his mouth. The other students get upset and then take food from their fellow students. A vicious cycle of survival.

Donald's mother frequently is incarcerated. Her drug problem and her complete lack of resistance to follow the desires of other people often leads to trouble. I've talked to her several times when she brings Donald to school. Sometimes, he will ride the SPED bus if she is able to awake in the early morning. My conversations with her has led me to the realization that the only difference between her and her beloved son is that she can talk, somewhat.

Donald lends some degree of happiness to my life. I walk with him down the long hallway each morning. During the escort I talk to him about the beautiful morning, him being in school, his pursuit of education, how cool he looks, but I do not mention his frequent lack of cleanliness. His mother has considerable difficulty in this area. Donald doesn't seem to mind the aromatic disorder he leaves behind. During our walk he smiles each time I speak. Approaching the double steel door that divides the long hall he always becomes fascinated with the push bar. His free hand pushes the bar several times. I suspect to hear the loud noise it produces. Then we continue our trek to the CDC classroom. Donald appears happy in all of his situations. I wonder what his extreme in happiness could be?

Bo Man Tim seeks happiness in power. Gang power. Know one working in the school knows for sure what gang he his affiliated with, but the common belief his that he is a member. I watch him on the sidewalk between classes and during lunch. He holds court as various and numerous males pass by offering the "secret handshake' and mumbling "important words". Their free hand holding the sagging pants up around their plumbers crack. Bo Man Tim appears to spend more time on out-of-school-suspension then he does in school. I've been entertained by his mother during several telephone calls. I suppose it could be safe to assume she is "snowed" by her baby boy. She frequently tells me how much Bo Man Tim loves the high school, how he wants only to graduate, and she believes he is a genius. I gather that his extreme happiness is remaining an innocent child in his mother's eyes.

About two weeks ago I knew I would achieve happiness because Spring break was beginning on March 19th. My anticipation grew with each passing day as I counted down toward happiness. It came and I knew I was going to do wonderfully fun and relaxing activities. By the 21st, Wednesday, I began to feel a lack of any happiness and then the realization began to grow that I would be happy on the 26th, the first day of school after Spring break. I walked Donald down the hallway this morning telling him about the wonderful day he was about to have. I passed Bo Man Tim and his court. Happiness is an extreme that know one ever reaches. That is probably the best we can hope for. If you are reading this, be extremely happy, sort of......................