When I got home, I told Sam all about it. "I'm sorry, I know we want a new computer, and I wanted us to be able to take a nice trip for our anniversary, but on the other hand, I didn't want to stay so long that I have to put it on my resume." And besides, I almost added, I'm supposed to make a difference!
"I'm glad you quit," he said. "From everything you said it really is an awful place to work, but two days? Jess, you have to stop bouncing around from job to job thinking that there's a perfect job. I know you keep thinking it will be different, better, the next one will give you a chance to charge onto the world scene and everyone will be awed -- but you need to get over that. Be realistic. Think about what you really want, what we really want in life. I want you to make a plan for your life. Tomorrow, OK?"
Well, there had to be something I could do with my life. Then, I knew, what I really wanted was to make a difference where I'd also have plenty of my own time. That sounded like teaching -- summers off, finished by 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. I'd found it!
The next morning, I was stunned to learn there was actually a lot more involved in becoming a teacher than expected. When I went to the school the next morning after Sam and I had our talk, they wanted to know about my certification. I am a lawyer after all; it isn't like I'm not educated. But they suggested I "try it out" first by becoming a substitute. I didn't feel that was perfect, but at least I could tell Sam that I was taking my first step on my life path. Besides, they gave me a brochure about what it takes to become a teacher. That way, I have the rest of my path when Sam asks about it.
My first job as a substitute was at the elementary school around the corner from our house teaching first grade. I walked into the classroom and breathed in the smell of chalk and erasers and children. I picked up the chalk and wrote "Mrs. Romero" on the board. Moments later, children began streaming into the room, all chattering at once.
When they saw me, they stopped for a moment, but then they started asking questions:
"Where is Mrs. Thompson?"
"When is she coming back?"
"Who are you?"
"What's your name?"
"Children, sit down," I said as sternly as I could. They all seated themselves and stared right at me.
"My name is Mrs. Romero. I'm going to be substituting for Mrs. Thompson today. I don't know where she is, but she will be back tomorrow.
Now, let's get started. We're going to do math first." I handed out the worksheet Mrs. Thompson had left.
"We'll do the first few together, then you can do the last ones on your own and hand in your papers."
We started with how many apples were in the barrel on the paper. Children started shouting out the answers right away. A-ha! I realized that I had forgotten something important. I needed to call on someone.
"Stop, stop!" I called, trying to be heard above the noise.
"Why don't you introduce yourselves to me? I'll start with you." I pointed to the first little girl in the front row. She was wearing a red jumper and matching plaid shirt that made her pigtails look like they were on fire. Her glasses made her eyes look huge. She was adorable.
"My name is Sarah." She smiled at me. "You're pretty."
"Thank you very much Sarah. So are you."
The next little boy said his name so quietly that I had to have him repeat it.
After I went through all thirty children, I crossed my fingers in hopes that I could keep them straight. I could see that if I took my eyes off of them for one moment, all the quiet and order fell to pieces.
I started again on the math, trying to remember the names as I called on children for the answers. It became apparent that only a couple of the children could actually add. I began writing on the board, trying to show them the basic addition principles. Suddenly the bell rang, all the children sprang up at once and rushed out the door.
I sat down at the desk. I was exhausted. It was only ten o'clock in the morning. I rushed down the hall to the bathroom. I had just enough time to go to the bathroom and get a drink before the bell rang again. When I returned to the classroom, no children were there. Hmmm, I wondered what to do.
I looked out the window and saw they all were lined up by the door. Oh! I was supposed to go and lead them in. I hurried out.
"Let's go finish our math lesson." I instructed as I waved them in. They all bounced in happily. One of the little boys seemed to be almost dancing on the floor.
"Is something the matter?" I asked him, I was horrified that I couldn't remember his name.
He turned crimson.
"Do you need to use the bathroom?"
He nodded vigorously.
He smiled and ran down the hall. I turned my attention back to the class. I got them settled down and working on their math worksheets. I walked around trying to help the children that were struggling.
Some of the children finished quickly. I could see that they needed something to keep them occupied.
"What does Mrs. Thompson have you do when you are finished?" I asked Sarah, who was fairly bouncing up and down in need of something to do.
"We're allowed to go to the story corner and look at books."
"All right, go ahead." Sarah dashed from her chair, along with three others who had turned in their work.
It took me until lunchtime to get all the children finished with math. This time when the bell rang I shouted, "Wait, form a single line."
It was clear that this was the normal procedure even though they had bolted out of the room for the first recess because Sarah asked, "Do you want us to line up in alphabetical order?"
"No, not for lunch," I responded. "We'll do that for afternoon recess."
Sarah was a great help to me today, but I knew she was probably quite a handful at other times.
I was so grateful to see them go to lunch. I was starving. Plus my feet were killing me. I didn't know teaching was so tiring. No time for morning coffee. No break except recess. This was definitely harder than I thought.
When the children returned from lunch, I sat on the rug in the story time area and read to them. A couple of them fell asleep. This teaching thing wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, but it was actually kind of fun.
After the story, I had the children go back to their seats to do some reading on their own. They pulled out their books, and I started with Sarah. Everyone had to read a paragraph.
Some of the children, like Sarah, knew how to read and sped through their paragraph, but there were others who had no idea that a word beginning with "r" could be anything other than "red." It was a slow process.
When the bell rang for afternoon recess, I was able to keep the children from running out onto the playground. As I sent them out, one of the other teachers informed me that I was to be on duty. Fabulous, I thought. When exactly am I supposed to go to the bathroom? I REALLY need to go!
I walked outside and watched the children play. Suddenly, one of the little boys in my class, the boy whose name I couldn't hear, cried out. I hurried over to him and discovered that one of his legs was stuck in a pool of muck. I tried to grab him, but I couldn't reach his leg without stepping in the muck myself. He was really crying by now. I was seriously torn because I wanted to help him, but I had on one of my favorite pairs of Prada pumps, and I knew this stuff was going to ruin them.
I looked over my shoulder in hopes that a real teacher would come to the rescue. There was no one in sight, so I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and whispered a goodbye to my shoes. Trying not to step down into the muck, I reached down to grab the little guy ... my foot sunk down past my ankle. I pulled him out then struggled to get my own foot out.
Another teacher finally appeared. "What's happened?" She looked terrified.
"He got stuck in this stuff, could you take him to the nurse while I try to get myself out?" I knew I was being snippy, but where had she been before I ruined these shoes?
She picked him up and disappeared into the building. I finally got my foot and the shoe out without touching the muck. I looked at the shoe, and I could see that it was already stained from this goop. I was fuming. "I'm a sub. I shouldn't have to ruin my shoes. A real teacher should do that."
The bell rang. I saw my class lining up so I asked the teacher next door to watch my class while I went and washed off my foot and shoe. It smelled awful. I hated to spend the rest of the day with a gooey foot in a stinky shoe. I was tired and just wanted to go home. Teaching was fast losing its appeal.
When I returned to the classroom, it looked like a bomb had exploded, the kids were running everywhere, paper was flying, and the walls were getting a new Crayola coat of paint.
"Sit down!" I knew it was extremely stern, but I was getting exhausted.
The children flew to their seats. I could see they knew I was annoyed.
"I'm going to give out your next worksheet. It is on vocabulary. After I give it out, we'll start going over it together."
As I walked around, I noticed a pretty little girl named Amber in the back had a puddle under her chair. Oh NO! I thought. I prayed silently that she hadn't just peed. What was I going to do?
"Sarah, why don't you tell me the answer to the first one?"
I leaned down and whispered in Amber's ear, "Did you go to the bathroom sweetie?"
She nodded, big tears were streaming down her cheeks.
I felt so terrible for her. "Why don't you go to the nurse, I'm sure she has extra panties and I'll clean this up, OK?"
She looked up at me and tried to smile. Then she slid out of her chair and hurried to the nurse. I hoped that the nurse really did keep extra underwear.
I went around the classroom asking for answers to the vocabulary worksheet. After we had finished it, I sent the class over to the play area so that I could clean up Amber's desk hoping no one would notice if they were somewhere else.
All the kids spent their playtime drawing pictures for me to take home. I received thirty pictures because by then Amber and the little boy who fell in the muck had returned to class. I thought the pictures were very cute, so of course, I took them all home to show Sam.
When I got home, I sat down on the couch -- my feet and back were killing me. I couldn't believe how much it hurt to stand up all day. That night, I fell asleep before Sam even got home from work. I'd never been so tired from one day of work. Perhaps teaching was too much work for me.
The next day I was called by the local high school to come and teach Civics. This would be a good match for me because I had the perfect degree to teach something in Civics. But when I arrived, the teacher had given me a film to play for ALL six classes I was going to have that day.
I looked frantically around. I couldn't watch the same film six times without anything to do. I hadn't thought to bring a book. Surely an English teacher would have a book I could read, I practically ran out of the room to look for an English class.
Relief! I found an English class, but the teacher did not keep any books. "What kind of school is this?" I wondered. She said that the students stole the books, so she stopped bringing them in. It took four tries to find someone who had a book. In the end, it was the teacher who oversaw study hall. She had just finished a Danielle Steele she was willing to loan me.
The day dragged by. I read the book as I played the movie over and over again. I was sleepy, but only out of boredom. In the last class, the film was over, and we were all waiting for the bell to ring. Some kids came up to me.
"Hey miss, how old are you?"
"I don't really think that's any of your business."
"You don't look that old," one kid claimed.
"You seem really cool," asserted another.
This was all seeming very suspect to me. "What do you want?" I asked suspiciously.
"We thought, you might be willing to get something for us," the kid who was obviously the leader confessed.
"What do you want?" I was very suspicious.
"Beer," he replied looking smug.
I laughed in his face. "I don't think so."
"Why not? We drink all the time."
"You might, but I'm not going to help you. It is a crime."
"No it isn't," the ringleader retorted.
"Yes it is," I declared. "It is contributing to the delinquency of a minor."
"We aren't minors."
"You are if you are asking me to buy beer for you."
"Don't mention it again, or I'll actually get you in trouble. Shoo!" I barked. High school wasn't for me -- the kids were too old for my taste. I liked the cute little ones, even if they did pee on the floor and make me ruin my Prada shoes.
The next week an alternative high school called to ask me to sub. I learned quickly that alternative meant that the kids had been thrown out of any normal high school. Most of the girls were pregnant, the guys looked like gang-bangers, and I was afraid to be there.
In my first class, I was supposed to be teaching math.
"Why do we have to bother with this? This ain't never gonna to be used anywhere I go," stated one of the boys, whose name was Too Sure. I was afraid to ask why.
"You mean that you never buy anything?"
"'Course I buy stuff, you trippin'?"
"Do you buy it with cash?"
"Sometimes," he was looking at me with intense suspicion.
"How do you know you received the right change if you can't add and subtract?"
He stared at me. "No one would ever screw with me."
"You are so certain of that? If you don't know any math, you wouldn't know one way or the other, so in your mind, you would never be cheated, I guess."
He gave me a nasty look.
"Do any of you ever buy something on sale?"
A few heads nodded.
"Wouldn't you like to be able to figure out what the sale price is before you get to the register?"
They all looked quite shocked at the idea.
"You are all so hopeful about human nature that you know you always get the correct price, is that right?"
I could see little lights coming on. Although these kids were scary, I felt pleased at my ability to make some small difference in their lives. The bell rang and they all departed in the most silence I had heard from any class yet. I hoped they were contemplating what I had said.
In the next class, one of the kids looked me up and down and said, "I ain't never gonna be rich like you, Lady. Why don't you give me some money?"
I looked right at him and opined, "If you would get an education you could be richer than me. I wouldn't need to give you anything." I shocked even myself with my boldness. I could tell the kid had never heard anything like it in his life. Maybe this isn't for me, I'm scared of these kids, I don't think I want to think about theorems or parts of speech or anything else like that, and I am simply not that fond of children. "I'd better start exploring some other possibilities," I decided.
The same alternative high school had a program teaching basic education to adults. The school offered me a full-time job teaching math to adults. I took it, of course, since teaching is how I'm going to make a difference in the world -- at least it was a job since I hadn't come up with another possibility yet, and I wanted an income. Besides, younger children were kind of hard to handle, and I was sure that adults would be interested in learning, so it will be a better environment for me.
Little did I know that the adults in the class were from a "detention center." I determined that I did not want to know what they were doing in the detention center. They reminded me of an internship I'd in law school with the local prosecutor's office. One of my assignments had been going to an arraignment. It was truly scary, so much so, that I decided I couldn't handle criminal law. I had been one of three white people in the courtroom -- and the only woman.
The people in that courtroom had looked rough and ready to do damage to anyone that messed with them. They were less than pleased to be at an arraignment. I had the same sensation I'd that day at the arraignment as I had standing in front of my new class today. What had I been thinking? Sam had tried to warn me that this might not be the best idea. He said, "Jess, I know you are trying to get a plan together to show me that I was wrong about you being a job hopper, but I really don't think this is the way to go about it."
I had sniffed defiantly. "I'm capable of teaching this class. I know I will like teaching, and I can make a difference. This is the path I have chosen." Maybe I should have listened to him.
I took a deep breath. "What have you been doing in math so far?" My voice was quavering, and I felt a slight wave of nausea.
"We been workin' on those times tables," a huge man in the back told me.
"OK. What was the last number you did?"
"Six," said a woman in the front whose arms were covered in tattoos of snakes.
"Alright. I'm going to put the tables for seven and eight on the board and we'll start working with them."
I turned around and started writing. I heard them all pick up their pencils and do the same. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all. I finished seven and turned around. "Take a moment to look the table over," I suggested. Then I erased the table and started putting problems on the board.
I started at the front of the room. "Will you do the first problem for me? Seven times three."
The woman stared blankly at me.
"Remember, multiplication is just a faster way to add. Seven times three is seven plus seven plus seven." I wrote it on the board so that they could see it. When I turned around, the blank stares told me this was going to be harder than I thought.
Out of the ten problems I'd put on the board, no one had gotten one correct. OK, I thought, maybe teaching isn't my thing, but that doesn't mean I can't have a life plan and find a way to transform the world. I have skills. That's it! My skills -- I need to figure out what skills I have and how to use them in a job that I don't despise. When I finish today, I'm going to start making a list of those skills.
"OK," I charged, trying not to show my exasperation, "go home tonight and work on your sevens. We'll continue with them tomorrow."
I was moving to the board to start eight when I heard a horrible groan. I turned around so fast, I had to grab the desk to stop myself.
There was a woman sliding down between the chair and desk. She looked like she was going to keep going all the way to the floor. She was huge! There was an enormous puddle underneath her.
Suddenly I realized that she was going into labor! What was I going to do? This was way outside any area of expertise I had. I yelled to the class, "Someone go call 911 and tell them to send an ambulance at once! She's going to have a baby!"
The man from the back got up and ran out. I was grateful that his size didn't hinder his speed in this crisis, since I had no idea what to do. Should I try and get her to the floor? I stood there and looked around.
"Does anyone have any childbirth experience?"
A couple of the women raised their hands.
"I have no idea what to do. Can you help her?"
Somehow, it seems they were waiting for that cue. They were up in a flash, helping to get her into a comfortable position, telling her to take deep breaths. I just sat down at my desk and watched.
The EMTs arrived in a few minutes. They assessed the situation, looked at me and said, "She's too far into labor. We can't move her. We have to deliver the baby here."
I'm sure my eyes were as big as saucers because my heart was beating wildly. What could I say or do? I shrugged and nodded, I think because I was paralyzed with fear. Gathering my thoughts, I shooed everyone out of the classroom, but we congregated by the door and waited. After a very long half an hour, the EMTs came out and said she had a healthy baby boy, then they were loading up mama and baby to transport them to the hospital. We all cheered.
When Sam got home that night, I told him all about it.
"That is without a doubt the most interesting day you have every had! Hell, that is the most interesting day I've ever had!! Are you going to stick with it?"
"It wasn't terrible, but it isn't for me. But I'm going to keep teaching for now while I look for the right path for me."
He smiled and kissed my forehead. "I think that is perfect."