The wall

Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone!
All in all, youre just another brick in the wall. by Pink Floyd

Ten years ago, CFS slammed me into a wall. Ive still not been able to pick myself up. That wall took my life, both with its physical tortures and loss of cognitive function. Its the loss of both that makes CFS intolerable most of the time. In the 2010 Revised Canadian ME/CFS Case Definition, ( cognitive dysfunction can manifest as:

? Impaired memory (self-reported or observable disturbance in ability to recall information or events on a short-term basis)
? Difficulty focusing vision and attention (disturbed concentration may impair ability to remain
on task, to screen out extraneous/excessive stimuli)
? Loss of depth perception
? Difficulty finding the right word
? Frequently forget what (one) wanted to say
? Absent mindedness
? Slowness of thought
? Difficulty recalling information
? Need to focus on one thing at a time
? Trouble expressing thought
? Difficulty comprehending information
? Frequently lose train of thought

Ive heard it said that the longer the duration of illness, the more likely one will say that cognitive dysfunction is the worst symptom. For someone who once used words for her livelihood, that is certainly true. Short term memory loss is particularly difficult. 35 year old memories are often sharper than something that happened last week or even a few minutes ago. Therefore, I spend a lot of time in the past.

I was a teacher in a high school where the students were either in regular English class or English B for the slower students. During one year, the principal, upon seeing my English B class, asked me, What is this? An escape from The 4th Ward? referring to the floor for psychiatric patients at our local hospital. I was astonished because he viewed these students as failures and not the teachers who couldnt reach these kids. However, it was in these classes that I learned lessons in humanity. I was touched by their incredible needs. Defiance, failure, and indifference were the outward manifestations of their frustration.

I looked up from my desk and my eyes rested on Allen, new to my class, who was in a very surly mood. Im cutting the sleeves off my jacket, he growled, as I stared at the 5 blade. Each time he swiped the blade through the stitching, I envisioned it going into the back of the student in front of him. He didnt stop or relinquish the knife when I asked; he kept ripping at his jacket. I flew to the main office and breathlessly told the principal that a student was using a knife on his jacket and wouldnt stop. Hes using a blade THIS long, I said as I extended my hands. Allen, it turns out, just returned from suspension, and out he went again that very day. I shudder at what became of Allen and his knife.

I had solidified my reputation as a strict teacher when I viewed the bathroom wall during bathroom duty or, in other words, watching for smokers. Written in black magic marker was Mrs. Lowery F_ _ _ _, and Mrs. Kowalski S_ _ _ _. What a duo! my husband proclaimed when I told him later that evening. I rolled my eyes at him. This was the work of an English B student. My other students gave me gifts, which was very nice. I still have my prized Greatest Teacher statue. However, it took several years of hard work to make it onto the RR wall, and it shouldnt be belittled.

The bell rang for 3rd period study hall. I had the jitters when I realized it would soon be filled with 100 lively high school students. Apprehensively, I gazed out at the rows of tables in the open school cafeteria. Before study hall began, I wrote their names on sheets of paper and placed them on the tables. Quickly, the students found their places, sat down, and it was completely silent. What is going on? I wondered to myself. Ah . . . The Reputation. I began to read the school announcements for the day which was a school wide rule for 3rd period. I heard some chatter in the back. I said, Anyone who talks during morning announcements will read them the next day. No one was anxious for the job. From that day on, all I heard were snickers when I mispronounced a name.

It was summer break and I was in the backyard when I heard a roar in my driveway. Michael Burk, one of my English B students from the previous year, was offering a ride on his motorcycle. I said, Sure! Off we went at a dizzying speed. I was fond of Michael who tried hard at his studies although he barely maintained passing grades. He kept to himself in class. He also held down a job in the evenings. I thanked him for the motorcycle ride, my first, and told him I looked forward to seeing him next year in school.

The following year during the cafeteria study hall, I heard a commotion at the front doors to the school. In came Michael swearing loudly as he crossed the front of the cafeteria on his way to the guidance office. Michael! I whispered, Please keep your swearing out of my study hall. Whats going on, anyway? Im quitting school! he grumbled. I couldnt contain my disappointment and pleaded with him to stay. He wouldnt hear it. His mind was made up. That was a very long, hard day.

I went to great lengths to motivate my students, and when the subject matter was poetry, I had to really try. My students became very familiar with alliteration and assonance. I would read the lines over and over emphasizing the repetition of the vowels and consonants. Then it was Da Dah, Da Dah, Da Dah and a lesson in rhythm. While reading a poem aloud, I would move across the floor clapping and stomping to emphasize rhythm. Our teacher is plainly crazy was the look my students wore as they silently stared at me. I told them that lyrics are poetry, and music is rhythm and melody, hoping they would recognize this in their music.

I wanted my students to embrace poetry, not dread it. I chose one boy and one girl to read aloud a poem which involved a couple skating at midnight, the ice breaks, and one of them drowns. It was a haunting poem with strong rhythm and perfect rhyme. John, a shy student, took turns with Beth reading the stanzas. Johns face turned red when called upon, but before the poem ended, he was really into it. His deep voice alternated with Beths higher voice bringing the story of the poem alive. One could almost hear the swoosh and swish of the gliding skates. There were more faces in the textbook for that poem than any other.

Two memorable Open Houses occurred in two consecutive years. During the first Open House, the president of the school board sought me out. Barely were the greetings over, when I began to feel as if I were being interviewed for a job and getting a performance evaluation at the same time, and things werent going well. It seems I had failed his son for the 6-week term, and his son was sitting in the front row glaring at me while his father interrogated me. During a break in the inquisition, the school board president noticed a leak in my classroom ceiling with water dripping through a fluorescent light bulb into a bucket on the floor. It leaked last year, too. Im afraid someone is going to get electrocuted, I said. The presidents head jerked up and with surprise in his voice, he said, Oh! You taught last year? Yes, I did, I replied. Suddenly his whole demeanor towards me changed. The interrogation was over. The following week someone came to fix the leak. Best of all, his son finally applied himself and received a B the next term.

At next years Open House, a students father shook my hand heartily and thanked me for being Janes teacher. I was overwhelmed and speechless. Thanks for having Jane! I blurted out eventually. He looked a little taken aback, but then smiled broadly. We were reading a novella which involved a scene in a courtroom. I asked the class, Would you like to enact the courtroom scene here in the classroom? Jane sat in the far corner, but from where I stood, I could see her face brightening and mind working. Students became characters from the novella and with a little improvisation they created a play. The extras were the jury members. When the jury came in, Jane and her prosecution team won. I know she is practicing law today.

By far my favorite class was Creative Writing. The course encompassed everything the students had learned so far. Creativity was the new unexplored realm of writing. During the first week of class we dispensed with the text book and tried to find our descriptive voices in a more unstructured way. I passed around different fabric swatches and asked my class to write words which described how these swatches felt to the touch. Deep in thought, they ran their fingers across the corduroy, poplin, satin, fake fur, leather, and so on. Words like rough, smooth, and soft gave way to soft like cotton, rough like sandpaper. We completed several small exercises like these while learning about similes and metaphors along the way.

Also during that first week, I would raid the art supplies with the approval of a very cooperative art teacher. I lined the walls of my classroom with a roll of white paper and provided paints. The students were asked to listen to music and let the feelings it evoked out onto the paper with their paints. Then after the exercise, we would explain our drawings to each other. Im sure the music of The Wall drifted into the hallway and the classrooms next to me. Thankfully, no one ever complained. My students looked nervously at each other, but when the music started, each student turned to his paper and lifted the brush. Lines and swirls mixed wildly with colors as they filled their paper with imaginations unfettered. Their efforts began to look like pictures, abstract art, or sometimes nothing at all. The wall came down for my students in the classroom on that day.

As for me, snapping out of my reverie, the wall also comes down as I revisit events that took place years and years ago.


Bravo! My best bud is a teacher and she talks to me about her feelings on teaching. She too teaches English. I commend any teacher. People don't realize the work involved. It's not just in class, it's after class, on the weekends, papers, assignments. I could never do it. I loved English. The irony, my best bud and I were in English together senior year and she barely passed. She recently was accepted to Breadloaf in Vermont for writing.

I, like you, think of the past with such clarity, but last week was a blur. And yes, as time wears on, it becomes worse. I love your story and you have officially inspired me to write of a past that I can not forget!

Thank you Brown Eyed Girl!!!!
Thanks, Spitfire. So you have an understanding of teaching from your friend. And congratulations to her, too. I did move on to another career, but I never again felt the rewards I came to know from teaching. However, I never experienced the lows again, either.

Cognitive dysfunction is the most disrupting thing in my life now. I believe it's important to capture our memories and get them on paper. I truly don't want to be remembered as this woman who gets in her car and gets lost, confuses words, talks slowly, thinks slowy, and drains her brain trying to understand one of Dolphin's scientific papers.

All of us were so much more than this disease! BTW, I'm waiting for the Spitfire Gazette.
Brown Eyed, she hates teaching. For her it's not rewarding or at times it is, but she would rather do something else but she doesn't know what. There is so much crap that comes with it for her aside from the teaching. The school, a private one that pays lousy and old Catholic priests that don't want to get with the program of today. Teachers drama including alcoholics and romance in a closet! It could be a reality tv skit.

I feel for you so much about the brain not working the same. I had a business meeting today that went alright except for the fact that my brain felt like soup and I couldn't find the words and came out and said that I have a mouth like a sailor. HA HA. Oh well, I was paying the business coach so she is going to have to get to know me and deal with it!!

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