“I’m really subtle,” he said, his smirk showing more of his personality than I’d seen in 2 years of knowing him. His brown curly hair also looked two years longer from growth over the past six months that we’ve been out of school.

“What does that mean?” I laughed. A flash of his bright yellow classroom that I’d be sharing with him this year danced across my eyes and flickered away. In my vision, the windows were open (which they never are), and all the desks were devoid of students (which they won’t be).

“Well… for example… I never say the word ‘Trump’.” I stared back at him through the zoom screen window incredulously, wondering if he’d say more, and pondering just how much self-control he had as a high school US History teacher to never utter a word which could quite possibly come into conversation during every single class period. Granted, our class would start at 7:30, so that would physiologically diminish student engagement. Still, I thought no way could I be that disciplined.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, I’ll just say ‘the president’…” He saw my blank blinking stare and this time went on. “So if someone brings him up, I just sit back and let the kids duke it out,” he said.

“You let the arrows fly,” I joked simultaneously, my words overlapping his. I pictured his 6’10 frame with his long Lincoln-like face leaning back in the chair at his desk, smiling at the war before him, hands clasped behind his head.

“I’m not afraid of conflict,” he continued. “I just really don’t want to find myself home and all evening thinking about that one parent that I have to defend myself to in an email back with regard to their complaints.

“Ok so what you’re really saying is rather than bring things up, you want to just save time,” I joked, but I was serious, trying to wrap my head around that mentality.

“More like save the energy of concern,” he concluded.

We talked some more, 1.5 hours in total. We discussed how to begin the class, as well as the scope and sequence, given any circumstances under which we might fall. He informed me that our district decided not to go ahead this year with the NYS change in curriculum for the US History course, but that we would basically “be doing the students a disservice if we didn’t, well, not teach to the old Regents,” but teach to it for the last time this year. My mind scrolled through the rolodex of students who would not have passed US History in prior years unless it wasn’t absolute bare bones. He definitely had a point.

He’s a great guy. We align 100% politically. He’s sharp, prepared, and hard-working. And he has a bitingly hilarious, if subtle and sarcastic, sense of humor, which I most likely will be the only one laughing at since his jokes barely eek out past his teeth.

On the other hand, I don’t see how, in this day and age, fall of 2020, we can possibly justify to ourselves, forget parents or society, pretending like everything is normal and moving right along with US History the way it’s been taught since the last time the curriculum was updated. How can we ignore systemic racism? How can we ignore the presidential election? And really, how can we ignore the virus and our situation as a nation on every level? How can we have an impact on the future of these young people if what we are teaching about their own country is not directly relevant and related to what they are experiencing so acutely right now in their everyday lives? I know I have to trust, I mean I know his views will come out in each lesson because teaching, after all, is not objective but is a political act.

“Hey, instead of teaching the geographical map, why don’t we use a COVID map?” I suggest.

“That sounds like a great idea,” he says. That confirms it: I can build a partnership this way.

5 thoughts on “subtle

  1. Love this piece, Heather. The pacing is so smart, from the opening dialogue to your coming to believe that you and he will work well together. It is such a dance, working with another teacher. It will be digital? Or will you be in the same room? Your questions about US History are powerful ones. I don’t know the answers. I know we have to teach our students to be critical thinkers, so maybe it really is all about asking powerful questions…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The significance of this conversation is huge. You are asking the right questions. We need to have the hard conversations, now more than ever. We can teach kids to do it respectfully. If we do, perhaps we won’t be as divided for the rest of eternity.

    Liked by 1 person

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