Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My favorite four-letter word

I used to have a huge problem with profanity. One time it got so bad, I was teaching a classroom full of 12 year olds and I actually said, "Shit," fully projecting in classic Middle-School Teacher fashion. The worst part is, I didn't even notice I said it. It was only after the look of shock and the dead silence that followed the collective gasp of the 43 students that I thought, "What just happened here?" Mentally back-tracking everything I'd just said, I realized I actually said, "I read your essays regarding the graphic novel Persepolis and the shit you all submitted was amazing!"

I'm actually laughing and cringing as I type this. Fortunately for me, the Los Angeles Unified School District was facing too many other major problems when I was on staff in the academic years of 2007/2008 to even notice my blunder. Had this happened in most other schools I'm sure I would've never heard the end of it from parents. The fact of the matter is, I was so excited about the quality of work my students were submitting, I got very carried away with enthusiasm. Clearly. Regarding the use of profanity, Malcolm X once said that people only use it when they don't take the time to think about what they're saying. In my case this was obviously true. Had I just been conscious of the moment, of my audience, of the praise I was trying to convey, I'm sure I could've come up with something better. "I read the essays regarding the graphic novel Persepolis and your submissions astounded me," for example, would've probably gotten a much more favorable response.

Who would've guessed that students in inner-city South Central Los Angeles would foster the kind of environment for me to improve my jargon? Had I not cared about my students, their idealism, and the standards which they held for me, I probably would have continued carrying on in my typical profane ways. Luckily, for all of us, I really loved my students. I loved them so much I often couldn't sleep at night because worries about how one of them might be treated on days where uniforms were optional consumed me in the wee hours. Granted, I am a bit of a worry-wart, nevertheless, that very moment in classroom 206 definitely made me instantly aware of the four-letter words I would use from that day forward.

Yesterday I held a special in-house Kids Yoga class that lasted only 30 minutes and was easily the most fun I've had practicing Yoga. I asked the students to spell out their favorite "four-letter words" knowing that their concept of the expression is unlike the tainted perspective of us adults.
Y-O-G-A responded the eldest student, Age 9.
R-E-A-D responded an adorable girl with perfect curls, Age 7.
L-A-A-F giggled my youngest, Age 3.
and then came a response that honestly floored me. In all my years reading, writing, reciting, and teaching poetry, I never even realized my favorite word of all times also happens to be a four-letter word:

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