I Went to College for This?: Confessions of a First-Year Teacher
One Hell of a First Day:
I teach 9th grade English and Drama at a rural high school in Nowhere, Oklahoma. My overall head count is about 146 students. I came to this school mid-year, due to a medical emergency suffered by the initial teacher, or as I now like to call it: "What Should Have Been My First Red Flag." Early in the morning of Day Numero Uno, a small, skinny girl with brown hair knocked on my classroom door. She sweetly asked me with what I considered a kind of new-year excitement if I could sign a permission slip allowing her to transfer into my 6th hour drama class. Enthusiastic about her enthusiasm, I eagerly agreed. Drama can never have too many students, right? Wrong.
My 6th hour immediately follows my lunch break, As the first bell rang and I made my way back to my classroom from the stuffy and resentment-filled Teacher's Lounge, I noticed this same girl heading into the school's library. I stopped to watch her as she sat down at a computer, pulled out a energy drink, and made her self comfortable at the desktop. As I glanced up at the clock in the hallway, with only one minute to spare until the bell, I came to the realization that this girl had no intention of coming to my class that day. As this realization hit and festered, and disappointment settled, I decided that a "good teacher" wouldn't just allow this to happen. I casually but authoritatively approached the girl, immediately asking her if she didn't have somewhere she had to be. When she didn't answer, I decided to do it for her. "You do have somewhere you need to be--my drama class, if I'm not mistaken. Unless, of course you changed your mind?" I knew that she hadn't. After signing her permission slip that morning, I quickly (too quickly, as I realize now what should have probably been my second red flag, which not only displayed itself proudly but actually shot out of the computer and waved itself obnoxiously in my face) received an email from the office confirming her transfer to my class. In response, the girl quietly looked at me for a moment, then began to gather her things. She all but ran to my classroom, with me following swiftly behind.
As the hour began, and I introduced myself, the disappointment I had felt earlier returned. "I just want to let you all know," I began, "that while many may consider Drama to be nothing but a blow-off class, I do not. I take it seriously, and you will also need to take it seriously if you want to pass my class." Intentionally looking everywhere but at the guilty, I added, "Participation will be a huge part of this class, and skipping it will only hurt you."
I now look back at this moment with a kind of sludgy bewilderment. I see the scene as clearly as if I were watching a movie, but from an outsider's perspective. I laugh at the new, unsuspecting teacher standing at the front of the class, without any idea as to the volcano that is about to erupt before her. In slow-motion, the teacher ends with "...and skipping it will only hurt you" and just like that, the sweet, skinny girl with a flare for drama disappears right before her eyes, and in her place emerges a foul-mouth beast.
Without so much as a beat, the girl, still looking down at desk in front of her, states in a volume I would have never guessed she was capable of reaching, "OOOOOOoooooooo I hate this f****** b**** right here, I SWEAR!" She then looks at me with her index finger still pointed straight up and waving around in a replicated scene from the movie Friday and a look of pure hatred on her face.
I'll admit now, I was at a loss for about ten seconds before finally recalling my training. "Excuse me?" I said calmly, "Are you referring to me?" I followed up with an authoritative, but still slightly muddled with astonishment, tone.
"Yep" She replied without so much as a hint of remorse or hesitation. "You heard me." She concluded.
With a response more stoic than I felt, I calmly replied, "Come up here right now, please." That's when Hell itself escaped from the floor of my small, rural-sized classroom and vomited all over everything in sight.
With the speed of a panther, the girl leaped from her desk, and strutted over to me with all the courage of the universe. Foolishly assuming that the girl would stop at a socially-accepted distance from my person, I quickly realized this girl had no intention of stopping her angry pursuit until we were nose to nose. Mano y mano.
Quickly, and almost without any thought, I stuck my hand straight out in front of me, the girl stopping just centimeters from a literal face-palm. As the realization that this small, skinny thing with some obvious anger issues had actually intended to step-up on me, as the kids would say, I did the only thing I could do.
In fact, I couldn't stop laughing. Now to be clear, I did not so much find the situation humorous as I did the fact that no amount of training in the world could have prepared me for a first day like this one. Five years and $30,000 at a top university had nothing on a teenage girl with a chip on her shoulder for authority. As I managed to instruct the girl to the office between giggles, and she slammed the door behind her, I realized something. This job may actually be the death of me. I looked around at the still-stunned faces of the other students and couldn't help but wonder: Am I a masochist?
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