Long Not-Strange Trip

View out my window at work

View out my window at work

I found myself thinking about this blog a few times in the last week and decided to see if I could remember the password to get back in to it. Obviously, I did. Can I remember why I wrote it? Obviously, I can. I was in the middle of my third decade of teaching and thoroughly fed up with the educational system that continued to become every year more a place of schooling and obedience than of learning and growth.

The last entry I wrote in 2011 was after an in-service day before school had started. I was excited to begin a new journey at a small school in the country where I hoped to have a good educational experience and to spend the last years of my teaching life doing some good in the sticks. It was not to be. In May 2012, I left that school–I would not have been rehired (the superintendent’s nephew had just gotten his teaching degree in English. He holds the position now)–and embarked on a new career. Since June 2012, I have been a truck dispatcher at a rock quarry. I have not regretted one day that I left teaching.

My last year of teaching was full of major ups and downs. This high school had only about 120 students, and I taught English for all 4 grades. Many of the students were difficult to deal with–they were not used to being held to any academic standards, not used to being listened to either, not used to having their writing put on display, their views and opinions challenged, their exposure to art, music, and writing expanded. My tires were slashed twice during the year. I had an enormous work load, spending a crazy amount of time as senior class sponsor ordering donuts for fundraisers, working the concession stand, preparing students for every assembly we had.

I also had great success with students entering the Poetry Out Loud competition, writing competitions, going to the state capital to receive writing awards, excelling on the fucking tests they had to take, making creative writing videos, journaling in the beautiful woods beside the school, taking hero’s journeys amidst the pine trees and composing stories old as Homer and as contemporary as 2012.

None of it mattered.

The superintendent took a disliking to me–his son was on the basketball team and because of my class, several of his teammates were ineligible. I wanted to think more highly of him, but when looked at from all angles, that is what it came down to. And the weird thing was that both the superintendent and the principal said they hired me because they wanted me to make the students accountable and to hold them to high standards, to, in short, expect more from them than past teachers had.

So . . . there is no satire here. Perhaps my only satire-less column! I felt like writing an update here. I didn’t remember that I had not written a thing during that last teaching year. It was all a hectic fog, and there was SO MUCH I could have used for material. And it must have felt overwhelming to me. There is a distance one has to have from a subject before the satire can come.

Truck dispatching? Here’s what I enjoy most about it: I have time to think. Ironically, as all of you teachers know, most public schools do not allow teachers time for reflection, for thinking, for being an unhurried human for a few minutes of a day. We all need that. Teachers especially need that. I do not particularly like the long hours, but there is a lot of down time, and I can read and write, make things, plan, stare into space . . . and I leave the job when I leave the job.

I write a lot of poetry now. There is always something interesting outside the quarry window: a visiting peacock, flocks of blackbirds, killdeer mating, trucker butt crack (okay, not so interesting), huge machines juxtaposed with tiny white wildflowers, boulders and truck-dodging squirrels, wind, rain, and snow.

If any of you are still reading this blog, please comment below. How is your teaching life? What are your thoughts in 2013 about . . . anything? Maybe I’ll write some more on this blog. Maybe it’s time I tackle that last year of disasters and successes with the keen edge of my satiric sword. Opinions?

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Long Not-Strange Trip

  1. Welcome back! I just checked your blog a week ago and noticed it had been way too long since your last post. I friended you on FB and never got a response. I was afraid something tragic happened to you! I’m so relieved to read about this twist in your journey. I shut down my blog for fear of retaliation; I miss it. I miss the good ‘ole days when teaching was fun. Hopefully, I can last just a few more years before retirement (Ha! What they’ve done to our retirement is ridiculous).

    • Hello! Good to hear from you. I know some people waiting on retirement . . . maybe something will change. Maybe you will get a new administrator . . . maybe your last years of teaching will be awesome. We can hope! I will check in with Facebook–haven’t done that in a while either.

  2. What was the sensible thing to do?
    —Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

    I love a student who’s persistent. I love to see a student, no matter how hard something gets, who keeps trying anyway, every day, and who does it with a great attitude. I love it when students smile while persisting. Sometimes they bark out a few awful cuss words and a few awful cuss phrases, sometimes accompanied with salacious body gestures, but’s that okay—because you know it’s the passion for accomplishment speaking. I love it when a persistent student finally accomplishes a life-consuming goal … and finally and successfully punts an orange basketball way up above us where it sticks between a steel beam and the gym ceiling, ripping yet another huge hole in the plastic sheeting.

    Lamar was so excited. He’d been trying to lodge a basketball in the ceiling for weeks.

    And this isn’t even our gym. It belongs to the first Baptist church. So do the toilets and the spooky, spider-nest of a kitchen and the classrooms on the left side of the building for the high school guys and the classrooms on the right side of the building for the lower school kids.

    Every morning, from 8 to 8:30, at my new school, around fifty tuition payers are allowed to annihilate something that isn’t theirs. They kick soccer balls into the walls. They zing footballs and soccer balls and basketballs and volleyballs at the gym ceiling. The plastic sheeting pops. They throw tennis balls at each other’s heads as hard as they can. They knock over the huge plastic trash cans. They scream at nothing and anything. They cry. They twirl around on the dusty gym floor in fetal positions. They chase and trip each other … while the headmistress lets her dog bark, even while she talks to prospective parents for an early morning look-see … and while a newly-hired, white-haired principal, who retired a long time ago but doesn’t realize it yet, wanders around the gym aimlessly, mumbling things to himself. For thirty minutes of each school day morning, this is the way we begin, and then we line up, shut up, and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America while the headmistress’ dog barks. The dog—our school mascot—has a human, female name.

    I call this thirty minutes of early morning migraine-making cacophony “Lord of the Flies.” There was a book, and two movies, which I know were not movies. They were documentaries. These kids, from 4th graders to seniors, will kill each other if you let them. Watching it, mesmerized by it, disturbed by it, I mutter to myself every morning … I am not the one who’s crazy. I am not the one who’s crazy.

    My new school is where kids might go who couldn’t make it at my old school. If they can’t make it here, it’s off to a facility, day or residential. Or, literally, back to their rooms at home until they get better and try again.

    This is a new school, too, in financial survival mode. There are kids here, violently matriculating, who should not have been admitted, but the teachers have to welcome them to class anyway, during any week of the year, with a forced smile. When you need any and all customers to survive, everybody has to find new ways to survive.

    The headmistress, to make herself taller and more intimidating, wears cork wedge sandals—impossible-looking shoes—and they make loud clomping sounds when she walks. Miss Manhater, the school’s lead teacher and the headmistress’ Mini-Me, to make herself taller, wears cork wedge sandals, too, and they make even louder clomping sounds when she walks. When they clomp around the gym, chasing some emergency … surely a meteor shower has hit the roof.

    The old principal is afraid of the parents and his teachers. He is visibly unnerved by the kids. Watching him get through the day is a source of unrelenting confusion for every teacher in the building. He never smiles or laughs. Some mornings you can smell booze on his breath. He limps. His face twitches. He’s our boss in hiding.

    I plead with myself … I am not the one who’s crazy. I am not the one who’s crazy.

    The same two old men from the church walk in and look at us for a long time. One is wearing overalls. I think I know what they’re thinking, and it’s probably not Christian. They shuffle away to unclog our toilets again. They were here yesterday. And last Friday.

    I am not going to go crazy, either, I have sworn to myself. I want to teach like crazy.

    I teach, and a few weeks in I realize I’m not as mentally prepared as I need to be for my new school. So I park the truck and ride my motorcycle to work in heavy street traffic. It’s a death wish and an early-morning mind sharpener that affirms you are alive. My left thumb lives on the horn button. The cat lady I see every morning with the “Purr More Hiss Less” sticker does not like for me to reside in her blind spot. She almost ran me into a Starbucks one morning. Into an oncoming yellow school bus on another. My big back tire leaves fifteen-foot skid marks on Georgia highway 9. I seem to always get behind a fellow in a Chevy Blazer whose tag reads DALE. Dale’s flicked-out cigarettes bound back along the asphalt toward me, and leap up at the last second and tick off my helmet. I arrive to school fully revved.

    My textbooks are twelve years old, donated from schools all over town. The headmistress thinks aloud in faculty meetings that modern textbooks are too expensive. We try not to let her see us glance at each other. President Clinton has not yet appeared in my civics book.

    While I was being interviewed, I was asked if I’d be willing to take on the slow learners in the high school … could I teach them civics and language arts without any academic expectations … and before I could answer I’d been hired to do it. Headmistress Skinflint does not like to chit-chat, debate, negotiate, or like to answer a lot of questions from teachers.

    I really needed the job anyway. I stand up to walk out. I guess I’ve been hired to … baby sit? Be a prison guard? Our school mascot shambles over and sniffs my butt.

    • This is the most outstanding “comment” I have ever received. Have you posted this as a blog entry? It should be. It reminds me of some of the insanity I used to encounter, on a smaller scale. Taking on the “slow learners.” . . . at my first teaching job, they discovered I was good at teaching the “rejects,” and so I never got to teach a traditional or advanced class because of that. A little variety would have been nice…..Teaching: The only job where being good at something guarantees you won’t advance or even experience change.

      • Many thanks for that. I appreciate your kind words! Yes, I’ve commented before as The Dixie Diarist. You may remember A Dixie Diary at http://www.adixiediary.com … the online journal of my rookie year as well as thoughts on teaching and a long bit about my goofy years as a sub.

        Anyhow, glad you liked my special comment. It’s actually part of a memoir I’ve written about my teaching career so far, titled “Adventures in Asperger’s: Teaching Moments of Mischief and Miracles.” I’m promoting it to literary agents now. We’ll see what might happen!

        Teach on! Never give up! I love your posts, too!

        http://www.adixiediary.com
        http://www.actionjacksonart.com

  3. Deb

    I too am at the point of no return in my teaching journey! I so enjoy the sounds of youth as those light switches in the recess of their brains get turned on!! I also enjoy the excitement & exhilaration of high school basketball & football! Looking at my world & trying to decide how to continue this journey……

  4. I am getting burned out on teaching. Maybe it’ll come back to me, but my eyes are wandering…

    • Well, I quit teaching one time before and took out my retirement money. So, it’s not like I was teaching to build up that source of income for my old age. That made it easy to quit and do something else. I have longer hours now and less time off but it doesn’t feel like it. I feel like I have my life back. Good luck! Let your eyes wander.

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