I wish that everyone could teach high school for one year. Not because I want you to lament with me about grading and understand how hard my job is and petition for higher salaries. (It's actually not that hard.) Not because I want you to experience a kid writing "penis" on your white board in another language to see how you would react. Nor because I wish you could deal with freshman who love to make fake farting sounds during tests and will inevitably ask the same question 17 times. No, I wish everyone could teach high school for a year because I wish everyone could experience what we get to experience this next week: a new semester.
I wish everyone could experience a fresh start in their job. We get one every year and it's one of my favorite things about teaching. Well, two fresh starts if you count summer. No matter how many mistakes I've made, how many lessons I've taught terribly, or whole units I've bombed; no matter how many awful moments I experience or how many terrible classes periods I have, I know that it will end at the semester and be no more. I get a fresh start. It is hope and it is grace and it is lovely.
It is finals week and as the students walk the halls frazzled and stressed and overloaded with information, I've been leisurely cleaning my classroom- leafing through paperwork I meant to get to months ago, sorting stuff that's been piling up and looming on the side of my desk and in the back of my mind. I've been tossing lots of papers and lots of worries and de-cluttering my room and simultaneously, my brain.
A fresh start. A new beginning. A spoonful of hope and a dollop of grace. I can't wait for Tuesday when I get a fresh batch of kiddos- some new faces and some old. I get to start over with them. Not that first semester was a disaster; it actually went quite well. But now I get a chance to do it better. It matters not how terribly I did at teaching grammar last semester. I can find ways to make it more interesting and applicable this time around. It matters not how unorganized I was or how awful that essay prompt was. I have a new opportunity to create a new system and write a better prompt. It matters not that I was cranky and impatient some mornings and snapped at kids asking stupid questions. I have a new resolve to live more intentionally, overflowing with joy and patience. A fresh start. A new beginning. It really is one of the best perks in this job.
In teaching there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not just talking about Spring Break or Christmas Break or even summer, although those all do offer immense relief. I'm talking about the change in the middle of the school year. I'm talking about the hope that a new semester brings and the grace that accompanies it. I am renewed and rejuvenated and I wish that for everyone in the working world.
The slate has been wiped clean. No one cares about my mistakes from last semester. Those mistakes will probably only be remembered by me. And the quicker I can let go of them and forget, the easier it will be to move on and be a better teacher for this next semester. It sure feels biblical. Except I don't have to repent to anyone about my lack of organization.
However, I do feel the need to repent just a bit. Maybe this will help me forget about my errors and move on and have a better second semester. That being said, here are a few more
* I walked into a closed door. I was proctoring an exam and not paying attention and walked right smack into the door. The kids don't even know me and they all laughed. Some pointed. I told them to shut up and get out of my classroom.
* I've come to school without combing my hair. I sleep with it in a bun and roll out of bed and do nothing to it. This happens about twice a week. In fact, I'm sporting that look today. On days such as these, I'll often wear pearls and heels to fancy myself up a bit and distract from the bed-head mess.
* I cried in front of all my classes. This is nothing new. It's not even embarrassing any more. Homeroom almost grew to expect the long awkward pauses during the morning prayer. I laughed though when one girl in fifth period said, "Oh good, we finally got to see you cry" when I read aloud the part about Kat dying in All Quiet on the Western Front. Apparently, period five had been feeling left out that I had been able to control the waterworks in their class period while I had been falling apart in period two. I was grading papers and didn't even look up to watch the last scene of The Crucible but I still lost it. Daniel Day Lewis has that effect on me.
* I mixed up the two Korean boys in period 1 all semester. They look nothing alike except for their black hair and I felt terribly racist every time I did it.
* Speaking of racist, when passing two hispanic students, I asked one a question and after he answered me, I said, "por que?...uh, I mean, why?" I know about 4 words in Spanish. Why oh why did I have to use one of them right then? Terrible.
* I imitated a peacock sound just as a fellow teacher opened my door. I blushed and he raised his eyebrows and said, "that was awesome." If you don't know what a peacock sounds like, it's similar to a child screaming for help. There was a reason I was imitating a peacock but now I can't seem to remember it.
* Right as the principal came in for a formal observation, I was in the middle of telling a joke about an owl. I really wanted to abandon the joke but could think of no clever way out so I was forced to proceed with my lameness. He probably forgot about my dumb joke-telling bit when I started singing, "physical, physical. Let's get physical." And no, this was not the day I had an averse reaction to a prescribed drug. Sometimes a girl just has to sing a little Olivia Newton John.
* I scared the class with a yawp. We were talking about the line, "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world" by Walt Whitman. I asked them to do their best "yawp" but none were willing to give a yawp with any real gusto, so I yawped quite loudly and scared them all. I made them all try again and they were later yawping at me from across the quad. Yawping is actually quite fun. You should maybe try it.
* I laughed at inappropriate times. My immaturity amazes even me at times. A girl told me that she heard that I was "easy" and I instantly giggled. She didn't get it. I think that's a bad sign when my thought process is less mature than a 14 year old's.
* I taught my junior class the following very valuable information:
1- how to execute a face rake: when someone is telling a boring story or saying anything in general that you do not like, simply say the words, "face rake" as you comb their face with your fingers. Shuts 'em up every time.
2- how to save face once you've told a boring story: assuming no one has already raked your face, and you reach the end of your story and realize it wasn't nearly as great as you thought it was, or it was definitely one of those 'you had to be there' moments, the only way you can save face is to do the following: at the very end of the story, throw in that you then found 20 dollars. Not only does this suddenly make the story interesting, it alerts others to the fact that you realize your story just bombed and they can laugh rather than feel awkward and pity you and your lame story. Warning: I only have so much tolerance for 20 dollar story-tellers so please keep these to a minimum.
3- how to execute a grave digger: simply stick your hand right under someone's rear the moment before they sit and slightly curl your fingers. It will make them jump and squeal. Hardeman rules: if you have food or drink in hand, grave diggers are not permitted. Also, if you are the victim, you must yell, "pounder" and then can pound on their arm until they remove the grave digger.
I'm guessing my students will remember these lessons much more vividly than anything I taught them about Romanticism.
* I taught these boys how to pose like girls. They still haven't quite perfected the "pop your hip out" move that I was trying to show them but check out that sultry expression in the center.
* I taught one freshman class about chafing. The word was in our novel and someone asked what it meant. How would you explain "chafing" to 13 year olds? Maybe you would give them the proper definition but I went a different route. I chose to tell them the story of my father running in Palm Springs. It was the late 80's, a time when men wore ridiculously short shorts, and my dad went for a run and experienced chafing of the thighs. He's always taught us to be problem solvers and he solved this problem by running into Rite Aid, opening a jar of vaseline, applying a generous heap, and then running out of the store. This conversation then escalated to the topic of "bleeding nipples" and I told them about the 4 men I saw in the half-marathon with two trails of blood streaming down their shirts because of chafing nipples. I'm guessing that is an image they will remember and they'll probably never forget what "chafing" is.
Despite all these strange moments in room A1, I get a fresh start on Tuesday. I'm still destined to say and do awkward and inappropriate things. I will most likely still cry and I'll still make plenty of mistakes. But I have a chance to do things better this time round; a chance to create better lesson plans, to teach with more pizzaz, to inspire and convict and encourage with more enthusiasm. It is a beautiful thing, this second semester concept. I wish you could have one too.