birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Poker Face

When I first started teaching, a teacher friend told me to always come to school with a clean slate every day. Don't hold any grudges from the day, the week, the month before. Make every day shine. And I've remembered that and done my very best to follow this piece of advice. Working with high school students has been one of the perks of my career. Helping them navigate their way through 3-4 years of high school, encouraging them to think ahead, about their future, what college or trade school might they want to go to? Following their dreams while being realistic is what I try to stress to kids who don't really think beyond what's for dinner that night. The students I work with are underserved,and live in low socio-economic neighborhoods. Many are the first in their family to go to college or even graduate from high school. The students I specifically work with have special needs and very often, their negative behavior (as in rude and bad) gets in the way of their pursuits towards life goals, college, and beyond.

I've worked my poker face to the point where a colleague could tell me a certain student just committed suicide and I wouldn't bat an eyelash. I've also been told to "fuck off, bitch," to "get out of my way" to "leave me alone," and "get out of my life" to say the least. And every time, I've told myself, I've resolved, not to let it wear me down. And every morning, when I don't want to get out of bed, I think of my students, and how much I believe they need me, and drag myself towards the bathroom. I have a particular student, A., who caused such a distraction in class, that sometimes my poker face starts to wilt. Today was such a day. Today I didn't have a comeback. Today, he pressed one more button, and I didn't know what to say. So I said nothing. I let it go. Five minutes later, I started all over again. I encouraged A. to start an assignment I know he can do. I praised him for the poem he wrote yesterday. The poem he wrote, came from within, and revealed the pain and obstacles he encounters in his every day life. Last week, I bought him a blank notebook to draw in. When I gave it to him, I told hime he could use it when he felt the need to tag, which had lately become constant. He said thank you in a way that I would like to believe he really was sincere. I saw him use it once, then put in his backpack and I have not seen it since.

Although I am resolved to do everything I can to help A. succeed, I am also resolved, and not willing, to let him spoil it for the students around him. There are other students who work hard, who want to succeed, and despite their disabilities, will graduate from high school, go on to college and and their passion. I still resolve to help A., to wake up tomorrow with a clean slate, and hope that he will be ready to learn and be open to whatever the day brings him. I hope that soon, he, like me, will start making some resolutions. Besides, I need my poker face to keep my slate clean.

You Say You Want a Resolution

Why Make Them?