After I finished my undergrad, I took the CBEST. I passed all areas in one day without studying. Not studying was because I don’t know that I was taking it seriously, but I felt good in knowing I am smart enough to teach kids. I majored in English because reading and writing are my passion. Studying literature tried to kill that passion, but most English majors go into teaching or law. Teaching is a fast track career in comparison to law school, and my kids wouldn’t have to become orphans to the stacks. I wanted to see what teaching would be like before committing a year and a half of my life to a teaching credential.
I was brought on as a substitute teacher at a local college prep school. I had a long term teacher’s aid position with kindergarten and a lot of hopping around through all of the other grades. I also had a long term teaching assignment as a high school English teacher. I was covering a couple of classes at the end of the day, a few days a week for a teacher that found a better opportunity teaching a class in a local college. I won’t go into the bad side of private schools for students or teachers, but I will say I will never again teach at one, nor have I ever wanted to put my children in one.
The kids were great. They were bright and friendly and energetic. There were a few girls that reminded me so much of myself as a teen. I wanted to wrap a sweater around them and tell them they were so much more than what they looked like. I wanted to prove to them they could get attention from their work, and they didn’t need it from the football team or a Dad that was always travelling for work or at work so he could pay her tuition fees. There were lots of bright exchange students and kids that were so hungry for the attention that comes with being smart as a birthright.
One afternoon, I had the high school English class break into groups of three. Throughout class as is often the case, some lunch time drama was spilling into class and rather than break it up, I let things fall where they did. Don’t get me wrong, when the kids talked about a fight after school, I was the first person to bring it up to the Dean. When bullying became teasing through text, I confiscated cell phones. This was different. This was a boy acting like a jerk, and thinking he could get away with it. I’d seen him do this throughout the semester and didn’t intervene before. This time, she said (loudly and with authority) that she had taken it long enough. She went into a fully expressed tirade and I stood silently and let it continue until she was done. She stood up for herself in the last few minutes of class, then stormed off. I quietly had a friend of hers go get her and come back to me once the bell rang. After hiding in the bathroom, they both came back.
The rest of the class started to tease him, and I intervened enough to regain some decorum. We spent the last two minutes going over the papers they were critiquing for each other. I couldn’t quite find my joy in making their papers bleed red with corrections. I felt conflicted because I knew what I was expected to do and didn’t do it. Once the bell rang, I assured this boy I would have a talk with this girl, and to try his best to get on with his day.
When she returned to class, I had her sit for a bit with her friend and promised I would be held accountable to their next teacher. I won’t forget how her delicate shoulders were still trembling with what she had done. It was a free period, and I wasn’t in a hurry. She calmed down enough to start explaining why she was justified in telling him off. I stopped her. I told her that she didn’t need to make me feel better about her choices. I told her that friendships are a two way street and if you find you are becoming the road instead of heading in the same direction together, it’s okay to find a new direction and travel buddy (a lesson I’ve needed to remind myself about my marriage repeatedly). I also told her that the changes that teenagers go through can mean an uncomfortable shift and we hurt the people we trust the most, but that didn’t make it his right to make her a punching bag. It also doesn’t mean it’s too late to heal their friendship but it would require her to decide it’s what she wanted. I asked that next time standing up for herself might happen out of my classroom so it’s not a reflection on my ability to keep order in the classroom.
I went home that day and thought about the situation and how I handled it. I saw what I should have done as a teacher, and couldn’t see how I might have done it differently because I didn’t want to. That was the day I knew I wasn’t cut out to be an educator. I can’t teach people how to do what is right in the classroom when the Mom in me was standing on the table and cheering her on for standing up for herself and kicking the patriarchy in her life. That, and I couldn’t find passion in the classroom. I watched the clock right along with the students.