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- Goodbye, Regis Jesuit or It Was 20 Years Ago Today
The first week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week. I often felt tension around this week when I was working in a high school as an administrator because, in my role, I felt my job – year-round – was to appreciate teachers. Though I was happy when this week rolled around for the school to dedicate itself more fully to teacher appreciation, I kind of hoped they already felt appreciated.
Silly, I know.
Almost two years removed from school work, I wanted to take some time to look back on the blessings of being a teacher – the immeasurable blessings – and the moments I recall fondly from my over 20 years in high school work.
To that end, during this Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, I intend to share a memories of my years in teaching – some I’ve posted in years past and some new ones – if only to recall the moments that stand out and the moments that have somehow inspired me to press on.
I had always desired to be a teacher and had prepared to do so in college, but I was unable to secure a position when I graduated The Catholic University of American Teacher Education Program. Working a support position in a Washington, DC non-profit, I was pleased and surprised to get a call from a Forestville, Maryland, co-ed, Catholic high school to gauge my interest in applying for a job. Blithely excited, and not asking why the school found itself in the position of needing to hire a position almost two months into the school year, I eagerly accepted the interview and, as fate would have it, got the job. I cannot say I remember one thing from that interview – I believe I interviewed with the principal and the English Department Chair (two good friends who must have been about the age I am now back then; they seemed really, really veteran to me) – but I remember the feeling of pure euphoria upon receiving the call that I got the job. I believe the day I received that call is the most important day of my life that didn’t involve my family. I do wonder, if I had not gotten that job, if I would have ever made my way into education. It’s an impossible question.
I do know that I was offered a job, I had – quite literally – a weekend to prepare for it and was not at all ready for what would confront me the first day… but that’s a story for tomorrow.
Oh, and the reason the school was hiring? The teacher I replaced suffered a nervous breakdown. True. Story.
Monday, October 5, 1992.
I actually remember very little about the first day, not what I ate or how early I got to school (I am sure it was very, very early) or what I taught for my first period class. I hadn’t had time to decorate the room and I hadn’t had time to learn one name of one kid on any of my class rosters.
I do remember the fear.
And the mimeograph machine. I remember that, too. My first school still had one when I started teaching in 1992.
I remember the fear more.
Room 108, across from a bathroom and water fountain, two doors down from the Faculty Room, occupied by 35 student desks in 5 rows of 7. Every school has a Room 108. This was to become – for two years – my Room 108. I can picture it clearly. I can picture where I had the teacher desk, where I would stand to begin class, where I put up my decorations on the walls.
Classes were 47 minutes long. Seems a pretty short time, but minutes play out in distended fashion when you are a young teacher and the minutes that day lasted a long, long time. As I slogged my way through that first class, trying to learn who these kids were, trying to figure out what they had covered in Senior English (yes, my first class was with seniors) prior to my arrival, a sudden motion in the very last desk – the 7th desk – on the left hand side of the room caught my attention and I turned toward it just in time to see a young woman slip out of her chair and hit the industrially tiled floor.
Welcome to teaching.
I pointed to the biggest kid in my field of vision, had him pick up fallen classmate and asked him to carry her down to the Main Office. Great first day judgment. Move the injured child. This Frankenteen ambled down the hall carrying his classmate while I ran ahead, panicked that my first teaching job ended immediately after I had said “Hello, my name is…” to my first class.
When I returned, the class was talking – not out of control by any means, but talking. I gave them some angry speech about how disrespectful they were to their classmate, how they didn’t know what was wrong with her and were talking and speculating and how they should have more maturity. I was pretty vocal – adrenaline will do that to you.
It was drugs, by-the-way. I don’t think the student ever returned to class.
I did, the next day and for many days after.
Trial by fainting.
Parent/Teacher Conferences – The First for Me
So, when one is hired to replace a teacher who left the job with a nervous breakdown fairly deep into the fall, one is guaranteed to run into Parent/Teacher Conferences very quickly into his tenure as a teacher. So it went for me. Within two weeks of accepting my position, I found myself sitting across the desk from students whose names I barely knew and their parents who intimidated the hell out of me.
And they weren’t trying.
I am sure I remember these first conferences as more intimidating because of a solitary event.
I have a problem with recalling my students’ names after they pass through my class. Once they leave, I tend to dump their appellations from my memory banks. When they come back to visit after they’ve graduated – and many of them do come back – I have a terrible time recalling their names. I know I taught them. Sometimes I remember where they sat. But remembering their names? Not too often.
I will always remember the name of the kid whose father punched him during my first set of Parent/Teacher conferences.
I remember it because it was shocking, because it was so far out of my frame of reference (my father never struck me) and because it was my first failure as a teacher.
That the punch wasn’t a haymaker, an upper cut or a round house. It didn’t make the kid cry or knock him off his chair. And it was 1992. I’d had zero training (though I had a degree in Secondary Education) in mandatory reporting or calling social workers or even resourcing with my principal, dean or department chair in a circumstance like this. Now, 21 years into my teaching career, I’d know exactly what to do if confronted with this situation again.
Then, I didn’t. And I failed in my first duty: the keep the student safe. We learn from failures (Isn’t that what we tell ourselves?). But there are few moments in my life where I can point to a screw up and say: “That’s it. That’s the moment I grew.”
I can point to this one.
It’s not a shining moment of my career, to be sure, but it’s an important one.