The Boomerang Nebula is purported to be the coldest place in space. Science says so, anyway. It’s all relative in my mind–I could name about 300 galaxies in my own soul right now that would give this place a run for its money. According to mine and Carl Sagan’s calculations, we are all made of stardust. Einstein chimes in to further complicate the matter by proving everything is relative.
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
― Carl Sagan,
I introduced the Boomerang Nebula to my eighth grade class this week. “Located 5,000 light-years away, this young planetary nebula has a morbid creator: a dying star at its center.” The kids didn’t catch the solemnity in my voice when I said this. Nor did they piece together the enormity of this reality. I explained to them that stars are at their brightest when they are dying. After nebulae are done expanding and exploding, they’ve fulfilled their duty of blowing our minds.
I heard one chuckle. Someone murmured, “oh cool.”
I should give you some back story to my star sadness here. Things have been a bit rough at school. This week was the first time I applied my newly-acquired, more complex teacher school skills to the classroom. Eighth grade responded the fastest and in the most positive way. It’s fair to say that all my classes responded well. That is, until the nebulae exploded Friday.
After lunch, my sixth grade class filed into the room more quietly than usual. I prepared the SMART board for our lesson on heredity. Almost immediately, two students raised their hands to ask if they could talk to me in the hallway, it will only take a minute. Keep in mind that one of these students recently got our class “MVP” award for most improved in science, not to mention the “Peacemaker” award for the month of April. In the hallway, they explained to me with hushed tones that they learned in a previous class they should confront someone when they feel disrespected. Their teacher told them to confront whomever made them feel bad in any way. One kid expounded on this, saying he has issues with anger management and he needed me to know he didn’t like it when I called him out on talking. He doesn’t like getting blamed when he isn’t always the only one talking (note: he is always the one talking). I felt myself getting defensive, but I responded by saying I appreciate the way they approached me so maturely. I told them I was proud of them for having the courage to tell me how they felt. I listened more than I spoke. But when I did chime in, I explained that it’s my duty as their teacher to be consistent in how I uphold consequences when students break the rules. They shook their heads in agreement and we returned to the class.
As I walked in, every student looked up silently at me. There was an eerie feeling to the room. I sat down to scroll to our next lesson. I opened my mouth to speak and a student’s hand shot up. “Ms. Lucy, we have something to say to you…as a unit.” I told them to go for it, having no context for what they were about to say. For the next 30 minutes, each student, one by one, stood up to air their grievances. The class had choreographed a teacher roast, ostensibly to manage their anger. This was a “planned group confrontation.” Comments included how “disrespected” they all felt by me. How “wrong” it was when I shared a stat about women–African American women in particular–suffering from heart disease at a disproportionate rate than the rest of the population. How much they “hate” when I “talk about David Bowie.” That my class and their art class are “the worst classes we have.”
This was not a group confrontation–this was a mutiny.
I managed to keep my shit together for the duration of class. At about 5 til 2pm, I set them up with a reading, put a student leader in charge, and excused myself to “make copies.” I rushed to the bathroom downstairs to cry in private with what little dignity I had left. I wiped my eyes and returned to the room to dismiss the kids. I locked the door behind the last one to leave. After about 2 minutes, the kids came rushing back, banging on the door. They knew they had fucked up. I didn’t answer. My last period class came in and they could tell something was wrong. So amidst our chats about DNA replication, we discussed some strategies as a group for how to not take things personally. We decided to make this a “life lessons” class period. I did my best not to go into too many details about what just happened, but news travels fast in a small school.
Friday hurt. Friday hurt real bad.
So I did the next best thing I could think to do. I met a newcomer, new best friend, for coffee at the ‘bucks. She told me her story, and I listened. We went together to a speaker meeting afterward. One alcoholic talking to another–that is the glue that binds us. More accurately, when we share our joys and woes, we act as fundamental elements that work together with cohesion. I taught something along those lines about surface tension. Because science.
I felt like shit yesterday, but I didn’t drink. I didn’t want to. But I could see why I would have in the past. Instead, I exercised a recovery muscle by listening to someone else. That halted the neurotransmitter shit show bonanza in my head, at least for the night.
The first thing I did when I finished breakfast this morning was meditate. Then I called a lady from the program. Then I got a 95% on my teacher school test. Then I remembered the most important lesson I’ve taught that sixth grade class thus far:
The Hater Ratio – 4:1 – which postulates:
For every one amazing person, there will be 4 haters who will try to bring you down. If you don’t have haters, you’re doing something wrong. Pay them no mind.
After many reflections filled with staring out into space, I came up with a lesson plan for Monday. I will have the students read the Saint Francis Prayer. The Objective: To identify effective ways to love one another. They will spend their 50-minute class period writing and re-writing this prayer. I will smile, but I will not speak. I’ll let Franny do the talking.
Then I will tell myself this, over and over again:
“So, the next time you are having a bad day, try this: close your eyes, take a deep breath, and contemplate the chain of events that connects your body and mind to a place billions of lightyears away, deep in the distant reaches of space and time. Recall that massive stars, many times larger than our sun, spent millions of years turning energy into matter, creating the atoms that make up part of you, the Earth, and everyone you have ever known and loved.”
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia