Yesterday, I saw one of the problems at the school where I teach part-time. Each day, I leave my regular school after noon and go teach math at another program. It's not a gig I asked for or am good at, but I go where I'm told. Usually, at the end of that school's day, while the full-time staff do bus duty, I take twenty minutes to tidy my room and then take off. Yesterday, the staff filed into my room for a quick meeting. I guess I was invited.
It was about a kid doing something the staff needed to be aware of. I'd share it here, but privacy rules and professional etiquette apply. Suffice to say that it was disturbing but ripe for humor. Throughout, I kept smiling and twice made jokes if for no other reason than to ease the discomfort we felt, but no one went along and I kept my jokes to myself.
It got me thinking back to a school at which we often made each other laugh as we worked through tough stuff. One time we discussed a student's mother being jailed for animal cruelty, including having left several horses out to die. We felt horribly for the student and the animals and maybe for the mother who we knew was a victim of her own long line of circumstances. This wasn't the first horror or the worst we had heard even that month. These things can beat a group down and so one of us, maybe me, said, "I think we've talked enough about this. Let's not beat a dead horse." We laughed. Someone else warned about rumors and said we should get the information straight from the horse's mouth. We went for half an hour like that.
Disturbing and macabre as it was, that meeting was us at our best. We hurt from laughing and groaning and that got us through without crying or drinking. I didn't take the horror home to my family and I felt closer than ever to my colleagues. We had the shared burden by laughing through the awfulness together. Sure, we could have been serious in the meeting, but laughing allowed us to be get through together and come out ready to be of use to the kid.
The meeting yesterday was very different. It wasn't okay to laugh. We were to focus on gravity not levity. The meeting centered on the administrator delivering the news and, while there was some comment, teachers were there to listen and do as told.
When I look back on this meeting, I'll recall a missed opportunity to smile through pain instead of gritting our teeth and how we passed up the chance to come together. I'll remember how business-like and professional it was. But when I think way back to the other school, I remember friends who had been through so much and come together so tightly. I'll remember laughing more than crying. We weren't typically business-like but we were professional in our dealings with kids. It just looked, sounded, and felt different. It was better.
Today I'll go back to teach my half-assed math class at the serious school. Then, soon as the contract allows, I will slip out the door and leave that place, still looking for a place to work where even in the midst of terrible things, we can laugh and joke enough to feel like a family.