There is no Substitute for Slate

Looking down the aisle of black-topped, science-class work tables and remembering when they were all made of slate…
I’m pretty sure that way back when school budgets allowed, slate was chosen for its durability and resistance to chemical spills. The material chosen now is for its cheapness. These kids don’t care one way or another, or they are intent on inflicting their personal measure of harm. This classroom sports ten laminate-topped tables, scarred and scratched but standing, hoping not to need replacement; it’s not in next year’s budget.
The kids look a little worn too. I hear their thoughts as they walk into class, “oh, a sub.” And whatever comes next in their imagination depends on a lot on their attitude about being here in school in the first place. Some kids open their books and read, their heads are down, their gazes steady, their pencils flying. Some kids—the smart-asses—need to try to disrupt. They laugh louder than necessary; they scroll defiantly through forbidden cell phone feeds. Some kids put their heads down on the desk and sleep, their hoodies enclosing them in a private moment.
I have no idea what these kids live like outside this room. I’m sure many go home to a world of poverty or abuse. Some are caught up in cycles of crime or dependence. Some undoubtedly will leave school at 4:30 and go to work; some will work very hard and very late, to feed themselves or to help put food on the family table. Still, others have strong family structures filled with loving family members who would do anything to see them get ahead, to just have a chance.
Some of these kids want something better for themselves. They will grit their way through their senior year and look for that escape hatch known as graduation. They will emerge from the dark tunnel known as “K-12” and emerge into the sunshine of a better life, an easier time than their folks had it, a job, a purpose…
I have known these kids all of 70 minutes, but I love them already. I have just started the wearing-out process. But I’m made of slate.

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