The new draft of Inside Fighter weaves together the story of my grandfather’s boxing career with the story of my year of teaching. After our rehearsal on Monday, I drove my co-performer Dennis home and then turned around in a Jewel parking lot, to head back towards my apartment. That’s where I ran into a teacher from South Shore HS, who’d had a room down the hall from me and was one of the teachers in my commiseration clique/ad hoc support group. He’d been teaching for like 10 years and could’ve easily been profiled on some cheesy “A Teacher Who Matters” special — he had success stories and real, heartwarming anecdotes coming out his ears.
I rolled down the passenger side window when I saw him and yelled, “Mr. Patner!” He stopped and turned and waved. “Ms. Muscato! I’m having a year like you had!” he said, coming over to the car and leaning in the window. He walks like a football coach and talks like a Chicago cop. “A year like me? Dear lord no,” I said. And he told me about how he’d ended up teaching eighth grade history in a chaotic classroom. “I feel like I don’t know how to teach at all,” he said. “It’s a nightmare, I don’t know how you did it.”
Up until this year, he taught 11th grade history, which meant that a lot of my ninth graders eventually passed through his doors. He told me that one of my students — Steven, who was way too smart for my class and so spent a lot of it drawing pictures of hand guns and making smart alecky comments — actually made a lot of progress in Patner’s class. So much so that Steven actually thanked him for setting him on the right track. “I gotta remember those success stories,” Patner said, shaking his head. “These eighth graders are kicking my ass, I’m tellin’ ya… it’s a whole different ballgame. You look so … happy. You look like a whole different person.”
“I am happy,” I said, and told him what I was up to these days. During Inside Fighter I actually place myself in a re-enactment of my classroom, where Dennis plays a bunch of chaotic students and I play myself. And then I talk about taking every day just one day at a time. I’d rehearsed this not 20 minutes ago. To be talking to Patner was so surreal, like seeing a ghost. “Man, you just gotta take it one day a time, you’ll get through it,” I told him.
“Yeah. I gotta remember that. One day at a time.”