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What Ray's Dad Doesn't Know

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I am sure my classroom evokes a great many memories for Ray's dad. The morning sun backlighting pictures taped to east windows, the heady aroma of new crayons, the click-clack of oversized high heels scuffing across the floor of the dress-up area, the bold strokes and colors on the easel--these powerful cues call up tender, carefree days for us all.

I wonder, though, whether Ray's dad knows that these kinds of memories are not always the reality for many of today's children. I suspect not. I doubt his kindergarten curriculum included lessons on what to say when answering the telephone while home alone, the difference between "good'' and "bad'' touching, or finding the bus that would take him to his after-school day care. I doubt he ever participated in a support group for grieving children, brought an Egg McMuffin to school for breakfast, or spent his evenings in the care of a maid who didn't speak English.

I wonder, too, whether Ray's dad grasps the reason I am indeed having fun. I enjoy the hard-won fruits of my labor: The children's constructive, formative play is, at least in part, the result of my training, experience, and ability. The course work, the seminars, the mentoring, the inservices, the research I have read, the meetings with counselors, the record keeping--each plays a part in the plans and interactions that fill my days.

I'll wager Ray's dad has fun at work, too, especially when he wins a big judgment for a client. Still, he probably would not describe the pretrial conferences, depositions, research briefs, and jury selection as amusing. A courtroom victory isn't a happy accident. Neither is a vital, productive classroom.

I would like Ray's dad to come for a longer visit. If he were to watch and listen carefully, I think he would learn that the work worlds we inhabit are more alike than they are different. While the contents of our briefcases differ wildly, we both go to work prepared to advocate for our clients in the best way we know how. I think he would learn that the only casual thing about my work is the jeans I wear to school. I hope he would realize that I help Ray win big victories, too--those of competence, acceptance, respect.

It's possible I'm being unfair to Ray's dad. Perhaps his comments are just innocent responses to the simple pleasures he witnesses, and I am overinterpreting them. Perhaps not. I just wish he would come and spend the day so both of us would know.

--Curtis Lieneck

The author teaches at the University of Chicago Laboratory School.

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