Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”

I’ve got school supplies on the mind.

Being a first-year teacher in a floating position, I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed for the start of school. I hadn’t considered the idea that maybe even whiteboard erasers wouldn’t be provided, which became a problem for me as I tried to wipe away my traces in the room I share with three other staff members. After the first day ended and I realized that middle schoolers really do lose pencils to the black hole of lockers, I drove to Staples in the pouring rain. Focusing my money towards pencils and tissues, I decided I’d just use some rag that I’d filch from my housemates to erase the board. I shouldn’t have worried so much; when I walked into the classroom the next day, there was an eraser (and my “I can” statement still written on the board in green) waiting at the front of the room.

The cloth would have been more historically appropriate, it turns out.

Erasers to me have always been a sign of safety, of no mistake becoming too large to fix. They seem to say, “I can handle what you mess up! You can rewrite this word and everyone will be none the wiser.” However, on the molecular level, erasers don’t wipe the mistake from existence as much as coax the graphite molecules from the paper onto its pink self. This theory seems to be more accurate to my experience with erasers; any experienced teacher can speak to the echoes that erasers can’t quite take off the whiteboard. It seems to me that erasers transfer mistakes, soaking up all the misspelled words and errant sketched lines.

I’m not just musing on erasers because I like to take every happy metaphor Americans have and turn them on their head (although it may be because it is much easier for me to be cynical in writing rather than optimistic). I’ve been thinking about erasure in terms of people, particularly myself and my students. To an extent, life in the public eye demands a bit of curation—keeping up appearances and self-censorship. But I keep seeing how I have to erase pieces of myself—lesson plans that I toil over only to be relegated to the depths of my Google drive, my chill nature in exchange for bubbly teacher excitement, my ideas about how students should learn to write that conflict with the curriculum developers’ beliefs—and wonder how the institution of school erases students. When parts of us aren’t allowed, where do we transfer them to? Where is our eraser, so to speak?

At 11 p.m. on a one-lane road in the depths of New Hampshire, three of my high school friends and I began to rehash moments of high school. We had just spent the weekend celebrating the marriage of another friend and reflecting on changing theologies as we all move from “college” to “post-grad.” As my car wound through forests, I realized how much I swallowed unthinkingly throughout school, and it was only when I had to fend for myself in college that I began to evaluate and push back and question. How much was I erased as a student? Where did my own beliefs lie dormant as I absorbed others’ words?

How many beliefs am I rewriting in students today, and what if those beliefs aren’t liberating but instead erasing?

Erasers remind me of life’s mutability, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that everything can be undone with no harm caused. After the particles have moved from the paper to the rubber, they can’t go back. I can only hope to retrace the lines I erased and pray they become sharper, clearer, willing to rage against the machine. I can only pray that I’m showing students to reshape their messiness into advocacy rather than erasing them into silence.

———————————

I’ve got school supplies on the mind.

Being a first year teacher in a floating position, I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed for the start of school. I hadn’t considered the idea that maybe even whiteboard erasers wouldn’t be provided, which became a problem for me as I tried to wipe away my traces in the room I share with three other staff members. After the first day ended and I realized that middle schoolers really do lose pencils to the black hole of lockers, I drove to Staples in the pouring rain. Focusing my money towards pencils and tissues, I decided I’d just use some rag that I’d filch from my housemates to erase the board. I shouldn’t have worried so much; when I walked into the classroom the next day, there was an eraser (and my “I can” statement still written on the board in green) waiting at the front of the room.

The cloth would have been more historically appropriate, it turns out.

Erasers to me have always been a sign of safety, of no mistake becoming too large to fix. They seem to say, “I can handle what you mess up! You can rewrite this word and everyone will be none the wiser.” However, on the molecular level, erasers don’t wipe the mistake from existence as much as coax the graphite molecules from the paper onto its pink self. This theory seems to be more accurate to my experience with erasers; any experienced teacher can speak to the echoes that erasers can’t quite take off the whiteboard. It seems to me that erasers transfer mistakes, soaking up all the misspelled words and errant sketched lines.

I’m not just musing on erasers because I like to take every happy metaphor Americans have and turn them on their head (although it may be because it is much easier for me to be cynical in writing rather than optimistic). I’ve been thinking about erasure in terms of people, particularly myself and my students. To an extent, life in the public eye demands a bit of curation—keeping up appearances and self-censorship. But I keep seeing how I have to erase pieces of myself—lesson plans that I toil over only to be relegated to the depths of my Google drive, my chill nature in exchange for bubbly teacher excitement, my ideas about how students should learn to write that conflict with the curriculum developers’ beliefs—and wonder how the institution of school erases students. When parts of us aren’t allowed, where do we transfer them to? Where is our eraser, so to speak?

At 11 p.m. on a one-lane road in the depths of New Hampshire, three of my high school friends and I began to rehash moments of high school. We had just spent the weekend celebrating the marriage of another friend and reflecting on changing theologies as we all move from “college” to “post-grad.” As my car wound through forests, I realized how much I swallowed unthinkingly throughout school, and it was only when I had to fend for myself in college that I began to evaluate and push back and question. How much was I erased as a student? Where did my own beliefs lie dormant as I absorbed others’ words?

How many beliefs am I rewriting in students today, and what if those beliefs aren’t liberating but instead erasing?

Erasers remind me of life’s, mutability, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that everything can be undone with no harm caused. After the particles have moved from the paper to the rubber, they can’t go back. I can only hope to retrace the lines I erased and pray they become sharper, clearer, willing to rage against the machine. I can only pray that I’m showing students to reshape their messiness into advocacy rather than erasing them into silence.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    I love what you did with the form, Alex. I enjoyed reading this immensely. Congrats on your first year of teaching!

    Reply

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