This Friendship

There are still a few minutes left in my Math 6 class when four 8th graders rush into my room. They hurry along the side of the room toward the front. They don’t interrupt me as I wrap up the lesson with my 6th graders. I can tell how excited they are to tell me something. And as soon as I dismiss the class Isaiah stretches his eyeballs and tells me, “Guess what Mrs. H said about you?! She said that your head is so big that it’s a miracle you can walk through the door!! And Mr. H (our principal) was there, and he laughed!!” The three girls who have come in with him — eyes equally wide — nod in unison, proud to bear witness to this most fantastic story. I suppress a smile, “Oh, she did, did she. And Mr. H laughed too? I see.”

Somehow the kids have picked up on the bantering between me and Erin, my next-door colleague of five years. They want to be a part of it, and we don’t want to deny them of the fun because that’s what it is.

Mostly the kids hear of our genuine respect for each other. I normally say, “Mrs. H is amazing.” And Erin, “Mrs. Nguyen is the best.” They see us laugh and observe our friendship. I think our students know how much we care about each other because they know how much we care about them.

Nothing is kept safe with these kids. I go over to Erin’s room to get something, and she tells me, “The kids told me you said shit in class today.” (1. It was not during class, and 2. You would too if you reached into a kid’s bag of chips not knowing what kind it was, and it turned out to be Takis Nitro.)

Whenever my class hears clapping next door, we want to clap louder, and we do. It’s deliciously juvenile, and I don’t stop until she gives up.

For 10 years I’d never missed a staff meeting if I was on campus, but on that day I did. I just went home because I forgot it was the second Tuesday of the month. Since then, Erin has always come over to fetch me for the meeting.

My desk at school is always a mess. Erin’s desk is neat and tidy. She remembers and meets every deadline. I run to her in panic, “Hey Erin, about that assessment that’s due tomorrow? What did you do? What’s the website again?” I’m convinced she has some sort of OCD to explain for all her perfection.

She wears not only a green top but also a green cap because it’s Friday and it’s Oregon’s color. We talk about opening up our own business — something that involves lots of wine and beer — when this teaching thing no longer works out. We talk about this plan in more detail, as if it would really happen, when we have a particularly bad day at work.

Erin is the colleague I wish for all of us. Someone who’s a friend outside of school. Someone who makes us look good. Someone who gives us more credit than we deserve. And that’s okay. Because there are always days when we deserve the credit, but no one is around to tell us.

It’s her fault that my head is so big.

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