Friday, September 5, 2014

Back to School

It’s the start of a new school year, and that always brings back one of my favorite memories from when I was a middle school teacher.  (If we could, let’s all just remember as we read this story that I was young.  It was 15 years ago, and I was 22 years old and only one year out of college, and I think that excuses me for a lot of things.  Right?  Right?)

I loved teaching, and I was actually really good at it, if you can believe that.  The only reason I stopped was to stay home with our kids when we had them. 

I’ve gone back to work doing other jobs that allow me to work while still being with my kids, but I often think that when they’re older, I’ll go back to teaching full time—if I haven’t ruined my reputation badly enough with this blog.

Which I totally have, so I suppose I’ll just spend the rest of my life reveling in my glory-day teaching memories. 

Ah, well.

Anyhoo, during my first year of teaching middle school English, I became really close friends with another 6th grade homeroom teacher named Leslie—or, to the students and parents, Mrs. North.

I was at a gas station one afternoon toward the end of the summer before my second year, attempting to go incognito as I paid for my stuff.  I hadn’t gone all Steve-Martin-in-Roxanne with the makeup, but still, I had shoved a baseball cap on my head before walking out my front door.

Try as I might to disguise myself, however, most people don’t neglect to notice a face as long as one of those unraveled Fruit by the Foot fruit snacks with a nose as lengthy as a football field stuck in the middle of it…all atop a gangly, 6’ foot tall frame with a sweet little poochy gut.

What can I say, peeps?  God just gives some of us more blessings than others.   I’m one of the lucky ones.

A parent walked up, smiled, and introduced herself. 

I started to shove my 12-pack of Natural Light and pack of Marlboros toward the guy standing next to me in line so that I could look all innocent and teachery, but I thought better of it when it looked as though he  might just take me up on my offer and flee the store with them. 

I’d already paid, and dammit if I was leaving that store without my prizes, parent or no parent.  I sighed, squared my shoulders, and mentally reminded myself that even though I was a teacher, I was on my own time, and I wasn’t drunk and acting a fool in public. 

Well, not yet, anyway, but hopefully the mom wouldn’t be around when I was later that evening.

“My daughter will be in your English class this year,” the parent said, “but she didn’t get you for homeroom.  She got Mrs. North.”  She gave me a little pouty face as if she were distressed by this, even though she didn’t really know Leslie or me that well and couldn’t possibly know which of us was a better teacher.  She was just being polite.

My answer was so quick to come that it left little doubt about the fact that I probably truly believed what I was saying.  “Oh my gosh,” I breathed, placing a hand over hers.  “Your daughter got Mrs. North?  She’s so lucky.”

The mom looked confused.  “But—" she stammered, “—but aren’t you the other 6th homeroom teacher?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said, swiping a hand dismissively in her direction, “but you don’t want me.  Leslie’s a much better teacher than I am.  In fact, I’m glad there’s a rule against having your own kids in your class at this school, because when I have kids, I totally want them to be in Mrs. North’s class.  I’d quit before I let my own kids have me for a teacher.” 

I shuddered, and although Leslie was a great teacher, so was I, and I had meant to be kidding.  But dammit if in that moment, I wasn’t a much better actress than I’d ever dreamed I could be.  I was so convincing that I almost whipped out a pen and a piece of paper to begin working on my Academy Award acceptance speech for that very second in my life.

I was momentarily angry that my acting skillz had bloomed so late in life; I hadn’t landed the lead in my junior high school’s annual 8th grade play and I was still bitter about it.  And I was right to be:  Apparently I’d been robbed, because here I was, hamming it up with a monologue complete with a shudder that seemed to truly illustrate just how horrifying of a teacher I was. 

Of all times for a talent to come shining through…

The mom, probably in shock, remained silent, and not knowing what else to do, I added one more thing:  “All I’m saying is, count your blessings that you got Mrs. North.”

When I finished talking and finally allowed my brain to catch up to my forever-yammering mouth, I felt my face begin to flush.  What the hell had I just said?

The mother and I stood there sort of gaping at each other, unsure of what else to say.  I mean, what was left?  Perhaps I should have told her that my ineptitude didn’t stop at teaching:  I was also an awful girlfriend who had just been unceremoniously dumped by both the boyfriend I’d been cheating on and the guy with whom I’d been cheating—because they both found out and got sick of my shit.

Instead, my face burning, I scooped up my beer and ciggies and then slowly backed away from the counter, stumbling a bit as I tried to awkwardly escape the situation without making it look like I was trying to escape. 

“Um, well, I look forward to having your daughter in English class!” stuttered the English teacher with a 12-pack of beer tucked under the arm connected to the hand that was clutching a pack of Marlboros.  (At least they were the ultralight kind.)

“Yeah…great,” she muttered in reply.  I swear I saw her roll her eyes, but I didn’t stick around long enough to know for sure.

Wouldn’t you know it, though, that in the years that I taught at that school and this mom volunteered there, we found that we shared the exact same sense of humor—and, if you can believe it, hers was even more crass and irreverent than mine. 

We became great friends, and often we would replay our convenience store conversation for teachers, staff, and volunteers who came to work at the school.  I always loved the part when she would hold an imaginary 12-pack of beer under her arm and shuffle backwards out of a doorway, exaggerating my stumble with a full-on fall while making incoherent squeaky noises out of the side of her mouth.

I swear it wasn’t as bad as she made it seem.

Apparently she was a pretty damn good actress, too.
And speaking of actresses, actors, and Steve Martin in Roxanne...

Have a great weekend!

1 comment:

  1. Now I'm wondering if I've missed out on some wonderful friendships with any of my kids' teachers!