Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The Life Lessons Never Stop
I am often like the students I teach. I get easily distracted and I do not track thought in a linear progression most of the time. Given my yearly schedule as a visiting writer, the number of classes that I teach in each school in a week or two of a residency, and the amount of materials I have to lug from one room to another on a daily basis to do my work, it is common that I leave a trail behind me. Teachers are used to me running into their rooms looking for books, water bottles, files, my clipboard, etc. I also have to adhere to that 4-minute span between classes and adjust to the temperament of the next group of students on the way. So I sometimes space out and leave things behind me.
A few weeks ago, I was teaching in a middle school. During a free period, I was working on a computer in a teacher's room, much as I am now. I checked email, my blog, did some research on a series of poems I am writing, general business. I have a collection of quality pens, often fountain pens, each with different colors of ink for various moods and purposes. As I also wrote about last spring, I have a black leather pen case (thanks to the inspiration and cajoling by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson) to keep the pens well. That morning, the last day of my residency, I gathered up my papers, journal, and other materials I had spread around me quickly to throw into my tote bag and resume teaching. I left the pen case on the table next to the computer without realizing I had done so.
By Sunday I realized my pens were not in my bag. I was nearly 4 hours away at home and I retraced my Friday. Monday morning I called the school and spoke with the teachers I figured I may have been visiting when the pens disappeared from my sight. One teacher emailed me later to say that she found the case but, regrettably, not the pens themselves.
I have developed an air of detachment about this. Although it will be a good chunk of change to replace them, the pens are replaceable and I fully accept my responsibility for being lax in the first place. My choice was to ask the teacher to please communicate to her students that I would not seek any punishment or retribution and that I would fully respect the person who could return the pens, making amends for bad judgment.
I asked the teacher to explain that these are my tools, just as the tool belt laden with well balanced hammers, sturdy tape measures, etc., are the house builder's tools. I also described all the pens because they are very distinctive, as are the colors of ink. Another step for me was to contact a student with whom I had developed a line of communication to ask him to put word out that Ms. Popoff would appreciate the return of her property.
The most ironic thing is that the pens would soon be useless to whomever had taken them because the ink is only available on line for each of the pens and the method of refilling the ink reservoir is tricky at best. I had hoped this would contribute to reason.
I understand theivery and wanting things that are attractive. It happens all the time. I even have to admit that, as a middle-schooler, I got nabbed for shoplifting. I had to go home and tell my parents and have them call the store manager. It was humiliating and taught me a lesson I never forgot and it ended my career of petty larceny. So it is no surprise that the pens disappeared. They are WAY COOL!
I decided to wait, to see if I had enough social capital in the school to have the pens come home to roost. After a couple of weeks, of enlisting the watchful eyes of several key students, etc., the pens never reappeared. I can order two of them on line. I can replace the third, a handmade wooden fountain pen with a great nib, when the annual summer craft fair opens in downtown Syracuse and that artisan returns. I imagine the pens will wind up in the back of someone's drawer, useless testimony to their poor choice.
I will also write a letter to be read to the students next week and I hope the teacher will comply. I will express my regret that someone disrespected me, the teacher, her classroom's sovereignty, and his/herself not just once but twice; the first in stealing the pens in the first place, the second in not having the courage to return them. I do appreciate that they did not take the case as well. It was just getting broken in. I have more pens at home that need to nestle in the softening leather. When I get back from my last 3 days of my year as a visiting writer, I will fill the three berths and then get on line and order the clones of the ones I lost. Next year, I will only carry commercial pens into school. That is my lesson. But I also acknowledge that it is the first time in 10 years that I have been victim to sticky fingers. That is a great track record. I will also try to be less like a child and take responsibility to keep my things in order from one moment to the next. I am sure my host teachers will appreciate that well.