Tuesday, August 30, 2005

T minus 9

After a leisurely afternoon spent reading my eighth grade Literature textbook (highly recommended - couldn't put it down - just wait until you see how it ends,) it started to sink in.

It hit a little harder when, this morning, I caught a friend making out a list of classroom rules.

Finally, this afternoon, as I crouched in an empty shell classroom - all blank bulletin boards, bare bookshelves, and expectant desks - there was no more denying it:

Next Thursday is the first day of school.

And I am going to stand in front of a list of rules (yet to be written) and give out some assignment (yet to be developed) and hope against hope that forty-eight young people (whom I've yet to meet) decide to follow me to June.

And that afternoon, some kid is going to go home and sit at his kitchen table and say something off-hand about "my English teacher" and he's going to mean me.

This is scary stuff.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

"Sixteen-year-olds don't know what love is."

I said this. I am not proud of it, but there's nothing I can do about it now. I said this to a fourteen-year-old kid, and I said it as his teacher. (Student teacher, but still.)

And OK, I did say it because he was hitting on me repeatedly and asking if I thought a relationship between a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-four-year-old could work out "if they really really loved each other," and I did say it with a sort of flippant air and a nod that told him to get back to his classwork, but that does not change the fact that I said it.

I've become a blurter. The only good thing to say about it is that it's only happened in the past year or so, so I may still have time to change it. But I am sure that the worst is still ahead. This is the reality of my future as a teacher:

I am going to say terrible things to children.

And they are always listening. (Well, except when you want them to be - then they're trying to text message their friends under the desk, but say something truly awful and they're all ears, trust me.)

The constant scrutiny of young ears and eyes, more than anything else, is what my summer school teaching experience made me remember about my own school days. As a kid, I monitored my teachers like a combination pageant judge and parole officer. To this day, I could sketch from memory the uneven foundation lines, the underarm wattles, or the white flecks of spittle that gathered at the corners of my eighth grade teacher's lips and, when he used a wet fingertip to erase the overhead projector, slowly changed to whatever color of marker he was using that day.

I took careful note of missed belt loops and the signs of tiredness around the eyes. I knew who was dating whom, who smoked cigarettes, and which ROTC instructor said that some people deserved to get bombed. So when my tenth grade English teacher misued the phrase "in which," or let her eyeliner smear, or said she'd rather live in a shack inside our city's swankier belt-line neighborhoods than a shack outside them, you had better believe I was Watching, Listening, and Judging.

I was talking to a colleague last night about how we're all full-timers now; he said this job means he now has to answer, "Sorry, I'm a teacher," every time a kid on the street asks for help buying beer.

There is no punching out.

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