Friday, January 10, 2014

A Former Teacher Turned Author Takes the Show on the Road

I was such an idealistic goofball when I stepped into my first classroom. I'd just turned 23 (only a few years older than the high school juniors I was teaching), but I told myself that I was much more mature and worldy and experienced than the "kids," as I called them.

Hey! I was armed with beautifully written lesson plans and a crazy English major-y love for Literature with a capital L. I pictured myself as the female version of the Robin Williams character in The Dead Poet's Society. Oh, I would stand upon my desk! I would spout Romantic Poetry! My passion would influence the students to start secret literary clubs!

Here's what actually happened:

1. Kids chatted while I was teaching. They roamed around the room. They raised their hands a lot to request passes to go to the bathroom. They came late (when they weren't skipping my class).

2. Only a handful of kids did the homework I assigned, and most of those cheated off each other.

3. A kid jumped out one of my windows.

4. Once, I caught a boy cheating during a test and I reprimanded him and he told me to do something that I will leave to your imagination. Blank My Blank was the gist of it. (He was suspended for three days.)

5. Several kids dropped out of school.

6. Several girls got pregnant.

7. A girl almost bled to death after being bitten by a pig (This is a story that I will leave for another time.)

7. I cried most days. Other days, I gazed out the window longingly and imagined myself jumping out (as the boy did) and taking off running up the hill. This momentary fantasy was actually a turning point. It made me laugh, and once I rediscovered my humor about all of this, I realized that maybe I could handle these kids.

It would take adjusting some of my expectations. And I'd have to be a little more tough. I swung too far in the other direction the next year, but I'd like to think that I found a proper balance between discipline and Robin Williams in the years that followed.

I loved teaching. I loved my students. (Er, most of them) I still dreamed of passing on a smidgen of my love for literature. But mostly, I just wanted to make my class a safe place where the kids knew what was expected, where they'd learn something occasionally, and maybe where we would all share a laugh or two.

It was hard to walk away from teaching to focus on pursuing my dream of becoming a published writer. And I must say that one of THE coolest things about being a published writer is that I am able to step back into the classroom again.

I'm visiting many schools this winter and spring, kicking all of this off with a whirlwind trip to North Carolina next week. Long time readers of On The Verge  know that solo travel is kinda challenging for me (see here), but I am happy to say that I am getting over this hump.

I thought it would be fun to post my impressions of my Writing/Teaching on the Road Trip. So tune in for that soon...

In the meantime, take a look at this adorably innocent yet terrified face of a first year teacher:


  1. You were the cutest little thing! If I'd been in your class, I never would have dropped out of school or gotten pregnant, let alone exited school via the window! I bet your kids started dozens of secret literary clubs. You just never knew about them, because they were... um. Secret.

    1. Unpub, you made me laugh once again.
      Also, I suspect those kids would tell a slightly different version of the story--featuring a teacher who was an overwhelmed flaky whackadoo.