Two-Sided

The Eritrean immigrants asked me, and then apologized profusely when I told them I turned 41 yesterday, for my ID at the liquor store today.

“Just because I am wearing a high school T-shirt does not mean I am in high school,” I attempted to joke. “I am a teacher at a high school, not a student.”

I tried to reassure them. “You’re just doing your job. Don’t apologize.” I hadn’t pulled in an ounce or a sip of wine yet. I carried my Riesling and 12-pack of Blue Moon the six blocks back home, gathering all my steps and burning all my calories before settling into a flurry of Friday tears.

My puppy and my daughters awaited me, pestering me for kisses (puppy) and dinner (teens). Mythili, as always, took charge, grilling pepper jack and cheddar-with-jam sandwiches, heating up our Friday-cop-out tomato soup while her mother paced the living room with her Riesling and screamed and cried, transcript search coming up empty, Facebook chat verifying that sixteen years into teaching, a master’s degree, thirty-six credits beyond a master’s degree, and a three-day teacher strike, had led her all to a salary less than what she’s making now.

The form to verify my “lost” credentials requires a two-sided copy of a transcript that I hand-carried six years ago and placed in a human resources officer’s hands.

The waiting period for the said transcript, if ordered today (done) from the university is fifteen business days.

The time I have to post a double-sided grievance to my school district is thirty actual days.

On the backside of a transcript is a watermarked imprint of how any given university determines eligibility. A description of credits. A copyright. A promise of authenticity.

But no. Actual. Credits.

Words.

Truths.

My school district, my world, our America, is two-sided.

Get your education… so you can pay loans for the rest of your life. 

Advertise (through movies and media) to the world how attainable the American Dream is… until anyone with a skin tone darker than Northern European comes and realizes that slavery is real, present, and unforgiving. 

Jump through every damn hoop to save a section of your soul with 150 kids every day… just so that bureaucracy can take it away.  

Upload your life into a system so unforgiving that you will wonder why you teach… Until, two sides later, you remember why you teach:

Your daughter dancing with the rainbow of humanity at this high school.

Immigrants’ voices sharing their poetic souls all day long so that even the most disengaged students put their phones away. 

Students celebrating art with as much gusto as cheering on the soccer team.

How two-sided the soul becomes when asked, Why do I teach? 

Why do I put myself through this constant criticism?

Why do I accept such a pathetic salary?

The answer is two-sided.

Because I love them more than money.

Because I spent the money to be here with them.

It’s not really a coin or a toss. It’s just the other side of the story.

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