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The First-Year Teaching Blues

My first job out of college was as a waitress, at Serendipity 3 in Boston’s Fanueil Hall. I didn’t know it then, but I was training for parenthood: learning to juggle the needs of many people, all of whom thought they took priority.  Primary difference between waitressing and parenting? Mostly my kids aren’t drunk when I serve them dinner.

I waitressed all summer after graduation because I hadn’t gotten a high-school teaching job. I’d done my student teaching, gotten my certification, sent out job letters, gone on interviews. I’d hoped to get a job where I’d done my student teaching but they’d hired someone with more experience.  And then the Friday before Labor Day weekend, the superintendent’s office called me, offered me a job, and told me to show up for the first day of school.

I had to be there at 7:30; school started at 8:00. That first year, I taught six sections of five different classes, which meant I saw about 125 kids a day, five days a week, The kids were done about 2:40, we had to stay until a little after 3:00.  The school was in a small suburb of Boston, about a 40 minute drive, depending on traffic and how hard I was crying.  I cried every day.

I cried because I was twenty-two and trying to teach kids who weren’t that much younger than I was. On my second or third day, a kid raised his hand and asked me how old I was. Like an idiot I told him and he slouched back in his seat. “I pahtay with people oldah than you,” he drawled (it was Massachusetts, after all. They all had wicked bad accents).

I cried because on my first day a student who I’d met when I was student teaching had raised her hand in response to the very first question I’d asked as a Real Teacher. I had called on her, ready to start shining the beacon of learning into her mind. “Did you color your hair? It’s kind of purple,” she asked. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on March 4, 2011 in Education, NaBloPoMo, Politics

In a word: hats

Today is Dr. Seuss’s birthday. It’s also Lou Reed’s birthday. And, for that matter, Tom Wolfe’s birthday. (Thanks, Grace, for that last).  Somehow these guys all go together, don’t they? Word play, refusing to play by the rules, the dapper ensembles and occasional cross-dressing (at least in Lou’s youth).

I was thinking about Dr Seuss yesterday, actually, when I confronted my “to do” list for the day: bathroom cleaning, grocery shopping, dinner pondering.  Writing a blog post, working on my novel. Student papers read, lecture notes prepared. Emails about various volunteer projects at both boys’ schools. Yoga class.

When I type it out now, it doesn’t seem like that bad a list, right? But of course any of these things could conceivably take up the entire day, more or less–when “entire day” ends at 2:40, when boy #1 has to get picked up from school.

A long time ago, in the early childhood of this blog, I wrote a post about twinned patron saints of parenthood: Sisyphus and Wile E. Coyote.  When I look at my list from yesterday, what comes to mind is Bartholomew Cubbins and his five hundred hats.  Remember that story? How he was supposed to take his hat off in front of the king but every time he took off a hat, there was another one underneath?  That’s how I felt yesterday: wear the chef hat doing the shopping; then slap on the writer hat for a while and try to regain the momentum from last Tuesday; then toss the writer’s hat aside to put on the volunteer hat and figure out the auction project, the field trip chaperones, the yearbook; flip that hat across the room and put on the scullery maid hat to swab down the bathtub, the toilets, and the sinks, which are sort of en croute with toothpaste. (Is it wrong that I aspire to having someone else clean my bathrooms?)

All hats off, I consider the clock: is there time to dash across Union Square for a type-A yoga class, an hour of BE CALM RIGHT NOW? I figure I can make it, zoom into the class, GET CALM, zoom to pick up child #1, and then home.

I guess I should be grateful that I was channeling Bartholomew and his hats rather than the oobleck (although perhaps that is what’s crusted over on the bathroom sink).

How many hats do you wear?

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Continue Reading · on March 2, 2011 in Books, family, NaBloPoMo, Parenting

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