Week 30: Mrs. M, do you think love sucks?

He used to hide under his desk when I would call on him, afraid to feel the eyes of his neighbors. It would take a few minutes to get a response. He would crawl out, head down, first whisper, mumble, then pause, then try again and again, protesting all the way. Finally, he would accept I was not giving up. We would wait for him. We were a classroom family, a safe place to speak. No opt out.

Now he raises his hand, speaks clearly, participates. Still, I remember those first weeks, months, maybe even that first entire year, so when I see his hand, I almost always stop and let him speak. This week we dissected pop songs to make generalizations about life and determine themes. Kelly Clarkson’sย “Stronger” had them singing in unison as they took notes on their whiteboards, ready to defend their generalizations about life from the song.

A debate broke out, was she generalizing that love was bad? We decided songs fell into two camps, either love was grand or it sucked. I used that dreadful suck word for effect. Generally it is not allowed in our classroom, but artistic expression prevailed and it was the word that fit best. One quiet hand in the back row emerged, the boy who finally had a voice.

I nodded, he began timidly. “Mrs. M, do you think love sucks?”

A shy smile spread across his face. He earnestly wanted to know what I thought.

I paused, not sure what to tell him.

“No, I’m married, I think love is great, but I’m sure if I were ever divorced, I may think differently for awhile. I think it just depends on your life experiences.”

He looked a little relieved. I wanted to know what he thought, so I asked.

“I think love sucks.”

My heart twisted a bit, uncertain what experiences brought him to that opinion, the innocence of fifth grade love or something much, much deeper. Still I could not help but feel pride in his voice, his comfort of expression in front of us. It has been a long journey for him, for us, since that first day of fourth grade.

Week 30 is fifth grade 3/4 done. Three weeks until star testing. Two days of Doug Lemov training in Oakland, my heart remembering another life in the bay with Gregory Alan Isakov’s “San Francisco” playing from my car stereo. Inspiration from a room full of 200 educators all dead-set on closing the achievement gap for low-income kids. Role-playing and practice, practice, practice of the smallest teaching techniques, as I fought my own desire to crawl under the table and hide. The deep need to get back to my students, to perfect my practice, to help all students find their voice.

Last night as I drove past my old work on my way to meet a friend, I thought about how much my life has changed in the nearly three years since I quit. A friend from that job resigned yesterday, her excited email pushed my thoughts even further into that past life. It’s almost like a ghost of me still sits up in that shiny building, making a bit more money, but chained to a desk. I could see myself on the crosswalk headed home to our tiny Berkeley apartment. A piece of me is still there. I smiled though, as I drove by– excited by my two days of training, the person I have become since then, stronger and with a much louder voice.

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18 thoughts on “Week 30: Mrs. M, do you think love sucks?

  1. Beautifully written, beautifully felt.

  2. kingmidget says:

    Ah, I wanna know what’s going on in that kid’s head now. Hard, hard question to answer. Even with my issues I believe that love is the most powerful thing. And, it could never actually suck.

    • oliviaobryon says:

      As usual, there is so much more than I can put in a blog. He’s had a hard life. But, I agree, love in its truest form never sucks. Romantic love, can be a little different, however.

      • kingmidget says:

        Yep. I wrote a post last week that I believe you commented had a lot of life in it. Same with this one. A nice path through a week in your world with a side trip to the past and a deep issue or two. The thing is romantic love is pretty incredible, too. It’s the lust or desire that is too often confused for love or romantic love that gets it all fouled up.

      • oliviaobryon says:

        Thanks, and I agree. You reminded me there are many types/versions of love, and most of what is in pop songs isn’t actually love– even the ones that appear to be on the pro side… More like obsession, really. It’s an interesting message children receive, (and potentially a very long class discussion ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • kingmidget says:

        Add to that, this little thing I’ve witnessed now, both with co-workers and my oldest son — because of technology (phones, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), the tools for that obsession are there and … everything … must … be … immediate. Technology is fundamentally changing our interpersonal relationships in ways I don’t think people have even begun to understand. I would love it if we as a society could ditch some of this stuff. Maybe not permanently, but find some way to limit it all.

      • oliviaobryon says:

        I think that’s why I’m so grateful my phone and internet access are strictly limited by my job during the day, breaks the addiction/temptation to always be connected… Interesting observation.

  3. Elizabeth Rastatter says:

    Hi Olivia:

    I still feel a part of me is at Rosen Consultling too.  Just for curiosity who resigned?  My guess is new mom, Melinda? Let me know, please.

    How are you?  I enjoy your blogs, but it’s not like seeing you every work day!  I miss you.

    Love, Elizabeth


  4. Taryn says:

    It sounds like you are an excellent teacher, Olivia – exactly the type of teacher every child deserves to have. So glad you’ve been able to pull this boy out of his shell. That’s not an easy feat for a 5th grade boy.

  5. nicole says:

    Olivia, beautiful post. You create such a nuturing environment for the children, and that one child, in particular, to find their voice; how brave he was for sharing his thoughts about love; I know that sometimes as teachers we want to assure the kids that life is great, things work out; being positive with them, but sometimes we just have to let them share their thoughts no matter what they are and you created a place for that — acceptance.

    • oliviaobryon says:

      You’re so right– it’s very hard to give children the space to express what we wish they didn’t feel. Thanks for the kind words and interesting insight ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Oh Olivia, I can only hope you give that poor boy a little hope that he can feel loved, special, and important. Those kids are so lucky to have you in their lives. I don’t know what I would have said to that question but your response was pretty perfect.

  7. Mergers says:

    Howdy! I know this is kind of off-topic but I needed to
    ask. Does operating a well-established website like yours require a large amount
    of work? I’m completely new to writing a blog however I do write in my journal everyday. I’d like to start
    a blog so I can share my experience and feelings online. Please let me know if you have any suggestions or tips for brand new aspiring blog owners.
    Appreciate it!

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Looks like you’ve already got it figured out when I click on your name and end up at your site? If your question is sincere, it’s very easy– just pick a template through http://www.WordPress.com and buy a domain name you want to use then synch them together through the settings. Other than that, a good banner photo helps, but it’s all pretty intuitive once you sign-up and explore the options. Good luck!

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