By now, I’m pretty used to the feelings that come with ending a semester. It’s sad to see people I’ve just started getting to know leave, and it’s a strange kind of devastating to recognize that just as I start getting comfortable with a group, they leave. Imagine moving into a new apartment and having to leave after the second month, when things are finally kind of unpacked and you know where your kitchen stuff is and there’s a comfortable amount of ancient leftovers in your fridge so the stuff you actually want to eat doesn’t look as lonely. Now imagine you do this two or three times a year and the apartment gets to review your performance as a tenant.
Teaching is weird, and I’m getting used to some of the stranger parts of it. However, there is one thing that comes with the end of semesters that I still have not gotten the hang of, and I think it’s because I give people books on their birthdays. I have never been good at giving gifts or anticipating what people want or being innately aware of the possessions they’ve already acquired within a month of their birthday. So I’ve tried to just find books that are suited to the person, and I haven’t yet been told to stop, so I suppose it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done.
I can’t buy books for all of my students, despite how hard they’re making me earn my paycheck, I don’t quite have it in me to go out and find an individualized book for each and everyone one of them. But I do like getting my students something nice at the end of a semester. Once it was pizza, another time it was cookies and tea, and for one group, I went to the store and picked myself up some potato salad and ate it while they didn’t appreciate the work I put in one last time.
I want to get my students some little bit of evidence to demonstrate I enjoyed getting to be their teacher, but I am poor, a bad gift giver, and most importantly, completely out of touch with what people actually like. I know I can always give my college kids some pizza or some form of food because that is the most important thing to them other than getting a good enough grade that it makes always being a little hungry worth it. I want to get them that, but I’ve no idea what they’d actually want. Like anyone would do, I’ve used the last two weeks to try to glean what sort of stuff these kids eat, and again I have no clue what they like versus what they just eat because it’s there. I’ve seen each of these students put away a significant portion of a vending machine, but I’ve also heard them spend more time complaining about health than my college students who, if I remember anything about what I used to do and eat and spend all night drinking, are genuinely kind of unhealthy.
I don’t know why I’ve been obsessing over this so much. I think it might be that teaching high school reminds me that I’m not that young anymore. I know I’m not particularly old, and I’m definitely not as old as I feel because no human has quite made it past their ten thousandth birthday. It might just be that I’m finally old enough that the things I like aren’t actively hated by every other participant in culture. I’m not part of the group that is constantly being told they’re too young for something, and my response to this new apathy about my age is to think that it means I’m old now. It makes sense that when people have finally stopped calling me young, I feel like I’m not anymore.
So, facing this strange incongruous awareness of my own relative youth and this weird sense that I cannot ever understand these kids, I don’t really know what I’m going to get them. I do know one thing for certain: I probably should not have waited until the morning of my last class with them to make a decision.