Ulcer material

17 Aug

Fading, fading. My memories of being a teacher are already fading. Yet I’m trying to keep as many images alive as I can, hoping that someday those images will turn into good stories.
Today is the first day back for students at my former school. Let’s see, I would have been rushing around last night (Sunday), getting things done around the house and yard, knowing that I would have little time for that stuff later. I would have been checking and double-checking my lesson plan book, to make sure I had enough to keep the little darlings entertained. I perhaps would have had that recurring dream where I’m standing in my classroom, unprepared for my students, and the class is going wild.
Instead, I slept in until 7 (no 5:05 alarm), finished a novel that I had been savoring and took a 45-minute walk. In an alternate universe, I would be supervising my third hour production class right now — they might be playing an ice-breaker game, getting to know the newbies, catching up on each other’s news.
I’m missing that, but not the rest. Which brings me again to thoughts of my 10 years on the job and why I often told people it was the hardest job I’ve ever had.
Physically hard, as in manual labor? No, there’s a lot of standing involved, but I didn’t mind that calorie-burning once I got used to it. Mentally hard? Yes, a typical high school teacher is the queen of her realm, with no other adult questioning her every move and with supervisors only occasionally observing and making suggestions about her classroom practices. So it was definitely mentally challenging because it called upon my skills in organizing, planning and keeping things running smoothly. It brought out skills I hadn’t known I had in leadership and asserting authority and yelling (oh boy, I don’t miss that). In addition, there are the mental challenges in learning curriculum and finding interesting ways to present it to a highly fickle audience (and that’s a nice way to describe classrooms overpopulated by reluctant learners).
Emotionally hard? In fledgling retrospect, that’s what I’d emphasize overall. The student discipline problems (“classroom management” is the euphemism) really got to me. I can blame it partly on lack of preparation and practice in classroom management while I was getting my certification. But there are so many variables in the makeup of a typical high school classroom that any classroom management method that you might think would work can end up failing in certain situations. For instance, the unsmiling, silent, waiting stance that’s recommended for a teacher when a class is rowdy — that failed me a number of times. I can remember students saying above the noise, “Hey, can’t you see she’s mad?” And they kept talking.
So many days were a “bad day.” In fact, toward the end of one semester a few years ago, I made a chart to record good days, bad days and in-between days. The in-between days won, but what’s that saying about job satisfaction?
So many days my 20-minute drive home would be in a mental and emotional fog, to be followed by a half-hour or so of just standing in my kitchen, replaying the day. How should I have presented the material, who should I have punished, should I have yelled or kept my cool, who’s a little shit, etc., etc. It got wearing.
Most teachers would say it’s a job that stays with you after you lock your classroom door for the day. And that can be true in a number of ways: coaching or assisting with after-school activities, taking grading or lesson planning home, checking school e-mail from home, rehearsing a lesson presentation, creating a Powerpoint … the list goes on.
With me, it was the emotional debris of the day that I couldn’t wash away when I got home, that sometimes kept me up at night, that sometimes woke me up way before 5:05. This was unlike any other job I’d had, where I could keep a fairly clean separation between work and home life.
My family put up with my complaints for those years; my daughter has seen me cry about it. It’s a wonder the job didn’t give me an ulcer.
Teaching was not a mistake: I grew as a person, to use a cliche. I enjoyed the schedule and the rah-rah activities of a campus. I generally liked high school kids, and I loved the journalism part. It’s just a matter of too many nasty episodes and nasty kids I don’t care to remember, at least for now. They will make good stories … later.

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