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.