Monday, January 19, 2009

From Room C410

I remember very little about my first day on the job. I remember it snowed terribly that day (I was hired mid-year--in February). I remember crying a bit in the car, the worry that I wouldn't make it on time for my first day plaguing me every snow covered inch of I-15. But I have no idea what happened my first day on the job. I have no idea what happened those first months as a bona fide teacher. That period in my life conjures up one word: survival. Oh sure, I remember the nightly crying freak out sessions: "I have no idea what I'm teaching in the morning and I spent 12 hours at school yesterday." I recall the stress piling up higher than my laundry pile did as each bullet item at faculty meeting was covered: "There's so much I'm not doing, apparently. But I'm here 12 hours a day!" I remember feeling exhausted all of the time, my eyes drooping as I entered attendance. I remember gaining more weight in three months than I had in my entire adulthood. It hasn't left, mind you (which is why I remember it so clearly). The actual teaching part of those first months, however, is a blur. I know I was there for it. I know that I was probably awful at it. I'm thinking I must be suppressing those memories. Because, try as I might, I cannot fully recall that time. I just know it happened and that it is over. That it is over is the most important part.

Last night I clicked onto Netflix to see what I had in the old queue for instant viewing. (I'm loving the Netflix, by the way, and all the foreign, indie, and old cinema I've struggled to access until now.) There it lay like a beacon, halfway down my ever-growing list: Chalk. This is your typical fly-on-the-wall mockumentary. Except, unlike The Office or Waiting for Guffman, elements of this particular flick hit a little too close to home. As I watched, I felt an eery sense of familiarity. The film follows a female PE teacher, a heartbreakingly awful newbie (this is where the eery sense of familiarity exhaled its cold breath on my neck), the friendly "we do nothing in his class" history teacher, and a new-to-administration assistant principal, all of Harrison High School.

Chalk was humorous, but not necessarily because it intended to be. When it tried to be funniest, it wasn't. Over the top at points? Slightly. But, on the whole, Chalk squeals across the blackboard of its subject with frightening, pitch-perfect clarity. This is what teaching in an actual classroom is like. Just add more students, perhaps no shower, bags under your eyes, and the sensation of aching feet and you get the point. And that irony was particularly poignant for an old school marm like me.

Where most films about teaching paint a picture of heroism and sacrifice, Chalk tells the real story. Bureaucracy, pettiness, cluelessness, and a room of revolving students who rarely care about what you have to sell. Its first message: 50% of teachers quit within the first three years. It spends its time telling you why this statistic is what it is.

It is true: three years is a magic number in the teaching world. I promised myself when I started that I'd give myself three years of it and then decide whether or not I wanted to stay on. Well, on February 15th I will mark my third anniversary in the classroom. And in spite of its downsides: exhaustion, aching feet, weight gain, incessant interruption while speaking, exposure to every airborne illness out there, piles of responsibility, verbal abuse (my classroom cupboard has a permanent carving of "f___ Ms. Rookie" that stares at me every day--thank you, incompetent substitute teachers), in spite of a general sense of survival from September to May, in spite of underpay and benefits that aren't as great as you might think, in spite of in how awful it really can be, I'm not going anywhere.

Because, in truth, it gets a bit easier every year. And, if I'm being honest here, the breaks aren't half bad, even if summer is spattered with professional development. But, most importantly, though I don't admit it all that often, I rather like my job. Something about being there as someone else learns is, for lack of a better term (and I know this is really quite cheesy), magical. Because, for all that people want to say is wrong in public schools, I'd like them to show me something better that is reaching everybody. For all of its imperfections, I think that most teachers are in the classroom for the right reasons. Call me an optimist. Call me diluted. Teaching is hard. It isn't a job for the faint of heart. 50% of teachers quit within the first three years of teaching. But for this teacher, I'm one of the 50% who stay.


Wemdu Pea said...

At least they used your proper name in the cupboard slur...."F*** MRS. Rookie." That's at least some sign of respect. ;)

silvernic said...

Three years is looking like a long time. Here's to hoping.

Melissa said...

Congrats to you! I left teaching after three yeaqrs and became an attorney. I like my job, but I loved teaching!

Jen said...

You go girl!

I'm glad to read this. I often wonder "what if" about dropping out of education and just getting the English degree. I still think sometimes it might be fun to try again after all my kids are grown and I'm not terrified of hormone soaked adolescents anymore.

Alice said...

I am so proud of you for sticking it out. I am also oh so glad it is getting easier. All those night time tears may have been worth it.

Yipee for Ms. Rookie.

I might want to see this Chalk flick.