Sunday, November 23, 2008


I came back. I imagined myself like Rocky, running up those bleacher steps. I! Would! Pull! Myself! Out! of! the! hole!

I was partially chicken though. I came back part-time. My 70 hour teaching work week was now only 40 hours. Sometimes I even got to see the sun.

I taught only three classes. Journalism and eleventh grade English. I finally figured out what to ignore and what to make a big deal of in class. I stopped assigning homework and spent lots of class time working with my students on writing and reading the books with them. I figured out that the best teachers (which I was far from) shared their passion with their classes unabashedly. I think I managed to do that once, and surprised myself and my students.

I figured out how to help my really talented and wonderful journalism classes to put together a newspaper (without freaking out!) I learned that most students will respond better if they think you care, and sometimes communicating that you care is more important than teaching them about Pygmallion. I greeted them at the door every day. I relaxed and laughed sometimes.

I poured my heart and soul into coaching. (I had an awesome co-coach, so when I say we, you know I mean her too) We did camp (taking along my breastfeeding 6 month old), we coached strategy (run really fast and don't get lost), we organized a trip to a race in California (minus my 9 month old), and we tried to organize indoor track.

Once, when a parent really ticked me off by claiming that I didn't spend enough time running with the kids, I figured out how much I made an hour coaching. It amounted to $2.63.

I loved it. I found my dream job. Those kids were so awesome.
At the end of my second year of teaching I quit. I felt like I could leave with some sense of dignity. I kept coaching though, for one more year until we moved. Someday, when my kids don't need me at home, so in about 20 years, I'll go back to coaching, and maybe, just maybe, I'll go back to teaching.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Soul Sucking

Why can I not figure out how to put my signature at the bottom?
Whoops, now I've deleted it. . . Oh well.
I'll try it again next time.

My first year of teaching high school sucked my soul dry. And then it ate the marrow of my bones.
I was hired to teach sophomore English and journalism when I went in to apply for a coaching job. One year out of college, fresh from a job as a personal assistant, I didn't have a teaching certificate. Now, it seems to me this should be a red flag when hiring a teacher, but apparently our school system is stretched so thin that if you are willing to coach and you have an English degree (and you are stupid and naive and will take whatever they throw at you), you too can teach English to teenagers who don't care and will hate you!
At my interview the assistant principal and principal looked over my resume and said, "We have an English teaching position open too."
"Oh." I said. "I don't have a teaching certificate."
"No problem," they said. I felt like someone with a black trenchcoat on was putting their arm around my shoulder while putting their finger to their lips.
An Alternative Routes to Licensure program would be my ticket to teaching while gaining a license. I wouldn't have to do student teaching, I would already be doing it while I took a few classes to gain the certificate.
Marvelous. I had never wanted to be a teacher. I majored in just English because I for sure was never taking a step into a classroom as a teacher.
People would ask me what I was going to do with my degree and I would shrug noncommittally. I was too embarrassed to admit that I wanted to be a writer (like that was some unrealistic dream on par with wanting to become the next President or an actress or Michael Jordan). And I didn't know how to become a writer. That got paid. So when I graduated I entered the realm of trying to find a job when you are totally unqualified for anything and have no connections.
I ended up working in a real estate office. I was changing the world and using that degree.

When I drove home from that interview, knowing that they would hire me as a coach, and an English teacher and I would be in charge of the school newspaper, I was euphoric.
So euphoric I ran a red light (while dreaming of my obedient and wonderful classes), and crashed into a really nice white car.
Good thing I would now have a teacher's salary to pay for my car repairs and higher insurance.

That first year was hell. That was the year I started swearing like a pirate. Out loud. (When I was sure no one could hear me.) I took all of my sick leave days-- not because I was sick, but because I couldn't face the idea of going back to the classroom. I was a good little sluffer though. I used my sick days to try and get ahead on correcting and lesson preparation. I had over 100 students that year. One girl threatened to sue me, the old cross country coach came back and tried to take over my job and turned the parents against me, I couldn't control my classrooms, I had no idea how to print a newspaper.

If I had a list of my students I think I would write them all personal notes of apology: "Dear Soandso, I'm sorry about your tenth grade year of English. I hope you weren't forever marred by my class and that you still read books sometimes."

But I could handle it. I could do it all by myself. I didn't need any help, and I certainly didn't need prayer or any of that stuff.
Thus the black hole of my soul. I still picture myself on the brink of a black hole, just barely getting one foot over the edge, pulling desperately to get that soul back. But I'm trying.

It started innocently enough
in a cliched room with cliched people
putting out a paper mache idea
"You can coach? Then you can teach."
I was awed by this belief in my power.
"Yes," I nodded, "yes, yes,"
and I wrapped the paper mache teacher's suit
around my frail skeleton of glued together knowledge,
nodding and shaking hands.
The first blow swung me out over the heads of 113 students.
Ahhh, a string, attached to my head pulled me back.
Another hit--70 hour work weeks--I am reeling
but somehow that string pulls me back.
Blow after blow, no computers, a crazy old man, angry parents, 806 papers,
The string somehow gets tighter,
I now strew pieces of battered crepe paper as I walk.
My shape has collapsed and I weakly bend my arms back into place
And crazily glue reinforcements on my legs.
One more hit
A staggering blow
And I am down, on my back.
The string pulls, always it pulls,
and slides me across the floor.
I crane my neck, and for a moment the string slackens and I can see this
String that pulls me and swings me-
It is taut again and my head is yanked back.
Once again, I am dangling-
By a String made up of Hope.

Next time: Why I will tell you that I liked teaching and loved coaching, even after it sucked my soul.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dear World

Dear World-
Here is my heart.
Without ink, it doesn't seem as poetic to write about my soul bleeding onto the page. Instead I will coldly tap, tap, tap away at the keyboard, hoping to raise some warmth, or some laughter, or some tears. And maybe I'll tap away enough that blood streams from my fingertips, so then you'll know my soul is bleeding out onto the computer keyboard. But then again, that would mess up the keyboard.
"The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium." ~Norbet Platt