Always Alone

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Chapter Eight

C, C, D, B, B, F, D, and the grades keep dropping. What have I done? I think to myself as I grade the reading and science tests my kids took today.

It has to be me, obviously.

As a first-year teacher in charge of my own classroom, the thought of failing my students has been floating above me like a nimbus cloud about to burst. I've been terrified they won't understand what I've taught them and as I look at these results, all I can think of is, I've failed you all.

I go online and search How to teach science to second graders? Coming up to a PBS website, I read an article talking about different strategies and the best one to use with second graders. I land on a YouTube video with ideas on the Water Cycle and the Life Cycle of Plants and Animals.

I type on the search engine How to teach reading to second graders? and read about the emphasis on fluency and automaticity. Jotting down some methods and new strategies, I soon notice that all the ideas would work great for most English-speaking student, but not for my English Learners, so I research ESOL in Science and Reading as I spent yet another hour studying new approaches for ELLs.

"Miss Peterson, what are you still doing here?" I jolt in alert at Mrs. Ruiz' voice.

Placing a hand over my rhythmic heart, I feel it running in my chest. "My goodness, you scared me." I look back at the computer and see it's almost 6:00 pm.

Crap, it's late.

"I lost track of time," I tell her. "Did you forget something?"

"Oh, yes. I'm helping Erik with his math project and left the cardboard here. I was five minutes away from home when I remembered and had to come rushing back. If it weren't due Monday, I would've gone home and picked it up another time."

Erik is her sixteen-year-old son, who, from what she's told me, is a great baseball player, not much of a mathematician, though. I can't believe she does his projects for him. How in the world is he going to learn? But what do I know about learning, my kids are failing my class.

"Mrs. Ruiz, can I talk to you for a second?"

"Of course." She walks over to me, looking like a giant as she takes a seat on a student's desk. "What is it?"

I don't know of a better way to say this than to just blurt it out. "I think I'm a bad teacher."

"What? You're a great teacher. I've seen you and you're very passionate, not to mention the kids love you. What are you talking about?"

"Look." I hand her the stack of papers holding evidence of my failure. I hold my breath while she assesses them, raising her eyebrow and tilting her head occasionally. That can't be good, can it?

"Miss Peterson." Mrs. Ruiz gives me a stern look and begins, "I've been teaching second grade for fifteen years. Trust me when I say, this isn't entirely your fault."

I scoff. Not entirely my fault?

"Oh, I didn't mean it that way." She swats at the air.

"Our curriculum focus is mainly on reading and math and because we don't do standardized testing on social studies or science, students don't see the value it contributes to their lives. Kids don't understand that science teaches them to make sense of the world around them. They think reading is boring because the books the district demands us to use are boring and frankly, inconsequential."

"Since they're ELLs I don't know if it's a language clause or if it's me and since I have no prior experience, I don't know what to do and the weights keep pushing me down," I confess my insecurities. "I just wish I could fast-forward this year and let the unknowns be part of the past so that I can show my true potential as a teacher. I want to be done with my first-year mistakes."

Woah, I didn't even know I had so much bottled up inside. I miss having my Mom by my side and confiding in her. It'll never be the same having her live so far. A phone call can calm my nerves, but a mom's hug can wash away all my problems.

"Don't lose sleep over this. I was just like you when I started teaching, and let me tell you, I got gray hairs after my first year for stressing out." She shows me the little white hairs at the root of her scalp.

I understand what she's saying, but I don't want to just go with the flow and see my kids struggle when I know they have the latent to achieve much more. When I know that by adding or taking one little thing from my lesson plans could make them understand something they had difficulty getting before. I won't give up on them. I won't be that teacher, not when they need me the most.

"Come on, it's Friday. You're young, in a brand-new city, go have fun with your best friend. You stop being a teacher at 3:50 pm and don't you dare take those tests home." She warns, knowing me too well.

I give her a lazy smile. She doesn't know my best friend died eight years ago.

"Okay, okay, I will. See—" I stand up and gather my things, "—leaving now."

On the lengthy drive home, I think over the advice Mrs. Ruiz gave me, but knowing myself for the past twenty-two years, I will lose sleep over this. I won't stop until those C's, D's, and F's, are turned into A's and B's.

There must be a way to get them to connect to science and reading the same way they do to playing sports or watching TV. Like captive birds chirping to be freed, so are my students. There's a world changer caged inside all of them and I am determined to let them free.

When I get home I pass by the mailbox, grab my mail, and open the front door. Once I've taken out Angie and showered, I read over my mail and see a notice from my landlord letting me know that rent will be due soon.

With a cup of steaming green tea in hand and my laptop in the other, I sit in the small dinette dining chair and log into my bank account. I'm excited to see my first real teacher check and by what Mrs. Garcia mentioned I know my time will be well compensated.

I stare at my computer in astonishment. Hmm, this can't be the right amount. I knew what I was getting myself into financially when I decided to become an educator. I clearly didn't get into this career because of the high paycheck, that's for sure, but I thought Mrs. Garcia mentioned I was going to get paid much more with the endorsements I have.

Is this how much first-year teachers get paid? I know I've only been working for a couple of weeks, but I physically and mentally feel like a veteran teacher. These kids are like vampires, sucking the life out of me. It's not easy, not at all, but I do love it. I would rather work at a job I love that doesn't pay well, than at a job I hate and pays tons of money.

That being said, how am I supposed to pay my car insurance, cell phone, water, electricity, rent, Netflix, and food? With this amount, I'll be lucky to have two hundred dollars spared at the end of each month. As I write down a plan to distribute the money in accurate halves, I hear an unexpected knock on my door.

Walking over toward the sound on the balls of my feet, I look through the peephole. My heart fluctuates at the sight of Devin outside my apartment. What is he doing here? Oh, my, I'm only wearing a long t-shirt. Rushing to my bedroom, I put on my pajama shorts, disentangling my messy locks at the same time.

I inhale a breath and, with the door chain on, open the door.

"Yes?" I question with a raised eyebrow.

Devin's eyes turn up to the chain and he lets out a puff of air. "I won't touch you, relax." A hint of a smile grazes his lips as he finishes the sentence. Gosh, that smile is something else.

I bite the inside of my cheek, trying my best not to titter when I say, "I'm surprised to see you alive. I would've guessed you'd still be in the hospital recovering from asphyxiation."

"I don't think you can recover from asphyxia; you're dead, but don't quote me on that," he says with a blank look in eyes.

After an awkward pause, I ask, "How do you know where I live?"

"Saw your name on the mailbox," he says casually.

Seriously, what is up with condominiums publicly posting your name on mailboxes? They're making it easier for thieves and stalkers to track people.

"How did you know it was me?"

"Really? We live in Miami. The whitest name we have here is Genevieve Peterson."

I make sure to give him a full-toothed smile when I answer, "My name's Swedish-French, not white and you can quote me on that."

Devin rolls his pale irises, murmuring, "Whatever." But I know he's trying hard not smile. "I wanted to give you this." He reaches for his back pocket and produces a pair of earphones. "I was planning on giving them to you at the gym, but since you haven't been back..." Devin rubs the back of his neck. "I felt bad about stepping on yours."

"Oh." I straighten myself as I take the box from his hand, ignoring the warm flow that passes through me when our fingers graze. "Um, you really shouldn't have."

"I really should have," he affirms.

As I longingly look at the small present in disbelief, I can't help but wonder the meaning behind his kind gesture. Is it just that, a kind gesture, or is it more? I'm surprised at how desperately I wish for it to be more.

"Well, thank you, Sherlock," I tease. Just when I'm about to close the door he stops me.

"So, I'll see you at the gym again?"

"Maybe. I'm kind of tired right now."

"How about tomorrow? We can work out together." I look into his eyes and something in them makes me agree with his proposition.

I nod. "Okay, tomorrow will work."

"Cool."

He walks backward and waves goodnight. I close the front door and press my back to it, bringing the earphones to my chest. This definitely means more.

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