The Halfway Dream by Mary Lourdes Silva
It’s hard to really pinpoint when I fell in love with teaching. In grade school, my sister and I used to play school during our summer break. What’s most striking about that time was that I never actually taught anything to my sister. I owned the creaseless unused math textbook that my teacher Mrs. Tubs gifted me, so naturally, I was the teacher. Fast forward to a year out of high school, I’m a green-belt in Kenpo Karate and weekly, I review my journal notes, which include philosophical parables, life principles, and anecdotes to teach my evening class of white belts and yellow belts. I wanted to be like Sensei Kirk who always started each class with some anecdote or parable that compared the yang of martial arts, the kicking, punching, throwing, and pulling to the struggles of everyday life: yelling at our parents, stressing about deadlines, spanking our kids, fighting addiction, pushing our friends away, and so on. The yin could be equally menacing in martial arts and in life–in martial arts, an indecisive punch or kick; in life, being too passive and inhibited; in martial arts, lethargy and self-doubt; in life, depression and anxiety. It’s when the super powers of the yin and yang join forces when we find balance in ourselves and use those super powers to form healthy relationships with others. Sensei Kirk was taller than my dad, coincidentally the exact same age by a whole day, and possessed the charisma and fortitude of a 5-star general.
When I taught my white belts, I didn’t stand quite as tall, but he believed in me. Several of the black belts at the dojo believed in me; it was the first time in my life, actually, when I started to believe in myself. It didn’t take long for another teacher to believe in me. This time my English professor, who actually thought I would be a good fit for the writing center. At this particular writing center, tutors were assigned three students for the whole semester, and my love of teaching writing started with “Mary’s Girls.” That’s what the tutors at the writing center called my favorite three students who signed up for two consecutive semesters just so that we could all stay together. Tutoring led to positions as a teacher assistant, which led to adjunct positions, to my current position as an Associate Professor of Writing. These past 20 years have been filled with some amazing students, and some not so amazing who earned themselves nicknames for their sociopathic behaviors: Duckling (for the stalking) and DLP (daddy’s little princess).
Then you have students like David Hall. He was probably in his 60s when I met him. He was living in a halfway house at the time, having served time for pimping prostitutes. He admitted to beating them as well, something he apologized to me about, “Now, Miss Silva, it is not something I’m proud of.” His story began in the swamps of Mississippi. Black children often ran from the KKK in those swamps. David knew where the alligators hid their eggs and hid right next to them to dodge the stream of gasoline thrown at black boys who could not run fast enough. One friend wasn’t so lucky and was later lynched. For David, an education was his halfway dream to being a therapist for alcoholics like himself. I never forgot David Hall. It’s one of the few stories that I recall so vividly. I also recall his candid honesty when he shared, out of respect for me and my authority, that he refrained from asking me out. Not to embarrass him and undermine his Southern charm, I simply went along with it and said thank you. By no means was he a perfect student, but I believed in him.