Thursday, February 7, 2013


I expect that I ought to address the fact that I quit my job.

There are so many factors involved here, accompanied by so many issues which I cannot discuss on a public forum, that I am not sure if "ought to" really means "ought to."

I had thought that I might be a good teacher, that teaching might be "my thing."

It wasn't.

The students were great.  Mostly.  All except approximately two, and I will leave to your imagination just how figurative or literal I may be with that particular number.  Suffice it to say that the kids were mostly great, and a high point of my day, each class with a certain flavor of its own.  Study halls perhaps not so much, but even there, the vast majority of the students were respectful and pleasant. (Note: majority does not include everyone, and there are a few detentions that I should have handed out, which I didn't, and probably to the detriment of those who earned and did not receive them; but nobody is complaining, and one thing I learned in spades: it is best not to make waves.)

I like students who smile and expect the best, love them, in fact.  Miraculously, this was quite a lot of them.  I like students who stay awake, but even students who fall asleep do not bother me tremendously... except in that they hurt my feelings, because I try very hard to be interesting.  However, I know that my own offspring sleep through the occasional class, and I know that it can be very hard to get proper sleep at night when you are a budding young adult, so I tried to be patient with the occasional sleepers; the chronic sleepers, perhaps not so much.

I like students, and explaining literature to them, and I love finding out that somebody has learned something.

After I started, I realized that I knew basically nothing about grading. The computer grading system they had there, Renweb, terrified me, and was in no way a high point of my career.  After I gave a few tests and assignments, I noticed that the grading spread fell about as I would have predicted it would, so I took that as a note of affirmation and proceeded forward to the best of my ability.  My heart never stopped racing while I sat and entered grades and pushed the buttons to see how Renweb calculated them.  Each student felt like my own kid, and I silently cheered for the ones who did well and mourned for the ones who did not, unless they did poorly merely for lack of turning in work, at which I felt as frustrated and disappointed as if they had been of my own flesh and blood.  In brief, there was not much I liked about grading.  I did learn that it takes vastly less time to grade a perfect paper than to grade a terrible one, unless it is a totally blank test.  A totally blank test is even easier to grade than a perfect one, just less reassuring.

The worst part of teaching was the mean parents.  There were not a lot of mean parents.  Let me just say: it only takes one mean parent to ruin your day.  Or week.  Or month.  It only takes one nasty, irate, scathing message to make a teacher dread opening any ensuing parent emails.  My husband always told me that you catch more flies with honey, but now I know firsthand what that means.

We are moving to the Midwest.  Had I mentioned that?  I bring it up, because I was thinking of lesson planning.  Lesson planning was very hard for me, mainly because there was so much of it, and so much of the material was basically unfamiliar to me.  When I realized that I would never again be coming back to reuse the lesson plans I was agonizing over, the lesson plans that kept me up past midnight most nights of the week and forced me to completely desecrate the Sabbath on weekends, I realized that something had to give, especially since I also now need to sell a house, buy a house, pack a house and move a house, as well as orchestrate the graduation celebrations of both my sons this spring.  (And figure out what is wrong with my body, but that is a whole separate issue.)

Back in the day, I used to teach a Bible study.  It was a study for ladies, on Tuesdays, and we studied the Bible.  I worked all week to prepare for Tuesday morning... not constantly, of course, but daily.  On Tuesday morning, I went to church to teach.  My friend Sandra had arranged a refreshment schedule, and each week she appeared laden with fresh flowers and other various decorative items to bedeck the refreshment table which was soon spread with fruit, baked goods and egg casseroles, as well as coffee, tea and juice.  Ladies snacked and socialized, then we studied and prayed.  It was lovely.  Cumulatively, I did about 10% of it, and what I did was really the Lord working and not me, anyway.

Somehow, from that, some people got the idea that I would be a good teacher, and they told me that I would be a good teacher.

But I was not a good teacher.  Preparing all week to teach one lesson does not begin to translate to needing to be prepared to teach four lessons five days a week (that would be 20 lessons).  This second load was beyond my scope.  Add to that: I am familiar with the Bible,  I have read it a few times, and I've sat under great Bible teaching for years.  I was not familiar with the tenth grade curriculum of World Literature.  It may have been a good course, but it was not material I had ever studied. My background was English, not World Literature.  I had no idea what I was doing half of the time; maybe 90% of the time.

When I taught Bible study, if I came to something tough, I could be honest with my ladies and say, "I don't understand this," or, "This means that we need to have the mind of Christ, but I am not there yet.  I'm praying for wisdom and pleading with the Lord to help me grow in faith, but I am not there yet."  I could say those kinds of things to my ladies.  But you can't stand in front of a classroom of junior high students and say, "I have no idea what I am doing.  I just read this last night, and I am not sure that I understand it myself, and I have no idea what I am supposed to make you understand."  You just can't say that.  They'll eat you alive, and their parents probably will too.  It was hard for me to feel so dishonest every day.

One day near the end, in tenth grade, we were studying The Iliad, and we were looking at stock epithets, which are shorthand descriptions Homer uses for certain characters.  The students understood and were good-naturedly searching the text to find examples which I then listed on the chalkboard.  As I wrote yet another stock epithet on the list, the thought echoed in my mind, "I lived to be forty-seven years old and raised four children, one of whom is currently pursuing a PhD in chemistry at an ivy league university and another of whom will start medical school next year.  And I never knew what a stock epithet was until yesterday, and it never mattered..."

To my horror, I heard my voice say to the class, "And I certainly hope that you find a practical use for this someday..." and fortunately I stopped before I said, "Because I certainly never needed to know it."  I clamped my lips together and willed myself to think before I spoke again.

"Wow," said a boy sitting in the front row.  "At least you're honest.  All the rest of our teachers tell us that we'll never be able to buy groceries if we don't learn their stuff."   In that moment I loved that kid with a raw, motherly love that wanted to say, "Homer has nothing to do with whether you will be able to put food on your table as an adult."  I wanted to give him a big hug and sit down with him and explain the difference between what he really needs to know and what is entirely superfluous.

I failed as a teacher.

I am not there anymore, and I'm sure it is for the best for the school and the students.  Still, I wish I had not failed.  It was a very disappointing failure.  I'd wanted to be a good English teacher.

So now, instead, I fail daily at packing my house, because if there is anything I am worse at than pretending to know something about famous literature I never studied in college, it is making decisions about what to keep and what to throw away, and clearing out my house.

Today I came home from a fruitless three hour long doctor's appointment and made a berry-peach pie.  I hope that my husband will love me if I make pie, because making pie is one thing that I actually can do, even if I am really bad at most everything else, such as holding a job or keeping house.  Yes, at least I can make pie.  Perhaps they should call me Amelia Bedelia.


Hope T. said...

You are also a very, very good writer. Now, I know you will reply that if you were as good as I think you are, then you would have a wider audience. And I don't have a real answer to that conundrum but I do know that I feel so pleased that I have discovered your writing; it is like my secret treasure trove.

Did I ever tell you that one day last year I read through your whole blog? I read both the posts written before I discovered you and the posts I had previously read but partially forgotten. It was a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Being able to bake a good pie is nothing to sneeze at, either.

ruth said...

My husband does say that he appreciates a good pie.

I'd better get good at some other things, though, because defaulting to pie baking is not going to get this household moved... if we keep going at our current rate, we will be sluggish and fat from pie consumption, surrounded by unopened mail, with nothing boxed for the movers come June.

You are, however, one of my best friends, and undoubtedly my very best virtual friend.

Hope T. said...

Thank you, Ruth. That means a lot to me.

Life is challenging right now. It helps to have a friend.