yeah, we tease him a lot, ’cause we’ve got him on the spot (welcome back)

Good God, Ms. Lavelle. Please do NOT become a high school teacher.  Please. He was from the South, and so his “God” had two syllables. (When he taught me to read poetry aloud in college, he did so with an Alabama accent. I still sound like a Southerner each time I read Those Winter Sundays to my students.)  He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples as he pleaded with me.  Trust me, he said.

There were plenty of reasons for him to say it, reasons that I could not possibly understand until I became a teacher.  Low pay, of course.  Long hours that often include nights and weekends.  Abusive parents.  Abusive students.  Inadvertent and even involuntary increased bladder control.

So I put it out of my mind.  I mean, I was going to be a college professor, anyway.  Write a best-seller (of literary merit, of course).  And I’d have cabin (a converted schoolhouse, actually) in rural New Hampshire or Vermont (even better) where I’d spend my summers, alone.  Writing.  And walking a dog. A very big dog.

Teaching high school was never part of the plan.  And that’s what I tell my seniors (who think they’ve got it all figured out, as I did at seventeen) on the second day of school.  I read a letter that I’ve written to them about how all kinds of things in my life have not gone according to plan. (I edited it last night because, of course, there have been plenty of events over the past year that, apparently, didn’t receive the “plan” memo).

But this August, I’m entering my eleventh year as a high school teacher.  And for the first time ever, I think I’m embracing (stomaching?) the reality that I am, in fact, a teacher.  And that maybe, it makes me even a little bit lucky (gasp!).

I read an article recently that made a good argument for teaching high school with a degree that was once reserved for college teachers (and by “reserved,” I mean that those of us who went on to get an MFA in Creative Writing had no real intention of teaching high school).  The article did a fine job of convincing me that I was not “wasting” my degree, and even made me a little relieved that I’m not teaching college (so, thank you, Mr. Nick Ripatrazone). But, I have to say (and perhaps it’s because I’m a bit soft), there are so many other (and different) reasons why I teach those darling adolescents.

Here are this week’s reasons (and by that I mean they have all happened in the past week):

  • One of the greatest kids on the planet referred to me as his “favorite person.”  No, not his favorite teacher.  His favorite person.
  • In our new “teachers’ lounge,” I opened the refrigerator to find a plastic container with my name on it.  A handwritten note said, “Here’s to the start of another wonderful year!”  Inside was a pile of chocolatey buttery goodness, from the same mom who often provides me with salty dill pretzels.
  • In class today (the very first day), one girl said, “Well that’s because you’re a good teacher,” and she didn’t intend for it to be a compliment, just a statement.  (Trust me, if you knew her, you would know she’s not the kind to give compliments — which just makes it an even better compliment.)
  • A former student sent me a text message that was a direct quote from my blog.
  • I’ve been at the same school long enough to meet the third (and fourth) sibling in one family.
  • I left work with a free pizza, and then my next-door-teacher friend (I’m in 24, she’s in 25) sent me a text message to find out about my afternoon trip to the mechanic.  Then I sent her a message to tell her that avocadoes were on sale for $.59.
  • A recent graduate let me know that he ended a tweet with #holdencaulfield.  (I mean, that’s enough right there.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure there will be still plenty of times, especially in social situations, when I say, I teach high school, and almost forget to leave out the “just” in between “I” and “teach.” Or I’ll want to punctuate the sentence with:  Really, I’m a writer!  I promise!  Read my blog!

But I’m a teacher. Truly. It’s what (who?) I am.

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7 thoughts on “yeah, we tease him a lot, ’cause we’ve got him on the spot (welcome back)

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with the what vs. who dilemma. But in all honesty, this post was great. I had a few great teacher in high school and I had a few teachers who acted like they never fully left (including hanging with the “cool” kids). I know which ones made the biggest difference.

    • You CAN do it. I promise. Right now, I’m waking up really early to work on the novel before I go teach. I think my energy level annoys my first period class . . . They’re clearly not ready for me.

      • Haha, I love it. That’s actually a great idea, I’ve been freakishly waking up before my alarm anyway. Would be nice to start the day amped up! 🙂

        Been actually thinking about changing my credential to teach high school English. It’s more what I imagined for myself but I was intimidated by the older kids. Now that I’ve survived a pretty tough school with the younger kids, I feel like I can do it… Any quick words of wisdom on this decision?

      • The older kids are just . . . bigger. They’re still kids, and they’re a lot of fun. I can’t imagine working with any other population, really. They make me laugh SO hard. What I love about high schoolers is that you can really challenge them to analyze, to make connection, to stretch their imaginations and not be afraid to go “out on a limb” when they look at literature. At this point, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky because I get to teach an AP Lit class AND a Creative Writing elective, but I also teach all the other levels of senior English and some sophomore English. And I enjoy all of it. Like you said in an earlier post, some days suck. Okay, a lot of days suck. But the good days are really good.

        If you’re thinking about it, I would advise you to go after it. They’re really not intimidating once you get to know them (and they’re all WAY bigger than I am, I promise). But you just have to show them that you love them and that you take them seriously, and you’ll be fine.

        Let me know if you have any other questions! I’ve been at this for a while. 🙂

      • Creative writing and AP English top my dream list. It’s funny, I never thought I’d want to teach elementary school, but then I subbed at a wonderful little private school that changed my mind. I really enjoy the age group I work with now, but I crave different content. Thanks for making big kids sound less scary 😉

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