Thursday, July 24, 2014

Today Is Yellow Day and Other Reasons Why I Love Teaching

Before I was a writer, I was a teacher. Well, that is not exactly true. I was a writer, always, and then I sorta freaked out about continuing to pursue what seemed like a silly dream (being a published author) and fell into teaching. That's how I used to describe it. Falling, and not a planned career.

My first year as a high school English teacher, I looked around at the experienced teachers (mostly women, many years older than I, at barely 23, and being intimidated. They seemed like MY teachers instead of colleagues.) and thinking, they chose this. Teaching is a calling for them. Something they've always wanted to do.

I felt like an impostor.

After a nightmarish first year, though, I started liking teaching too. I probably could've taught forever, except my husband's job moved us to another state and in the midst of filling out the paperwork to get my teaching certification transferred, I had mini breakdown/midlife crisis.

Did I have the guts to pursue my writing dream or what?

And I realized that leaving a great job that I liked was much harder than quitting a crappy job. (See: Papa Gino's Pizza Place, where my first day on the job they made me wash 5 gazillion pizza pans and wouldn't let me leave until I finished at 2:00AM on a school night. I had no problem whatsoever putting in my two-weeks notice for that job.)  

Leaving teaching behind was hard, but I am glad that I took the chance. Writing is my calling. And pursuing that dream was not falling, but jumping, leaping, flying--off a cliff into the unknown with no teaching certificate to catch me.

I feel extremely blessed that I can write full time. The best perk is the whole Make Your Own Hours/Sit Around In Your Pajamas aspect. I also get a fun kick out of the traveling/promoting (this, after beating back my crazy travel anxiety).

But here's a big surprise: As a writer, I get to be a teacher. This year I've probably visited 30 classrooms to talk about my book or the writing process, or in one case, about the color yellow. (I was in a preschool class and a little girl was wearing a yellow tutu and I asked her if she was a dancer--just trying to make conversation--and she looked at me like I was a weirdo, and said, "No. Today is Yellow Day.") It reminded me how much I loved being a teacher-- all the best parts of teaching--by which I mean actually being in the classroom teaching, instead of dealing with the yucky side stuff like test scores and committee meetings where you talk about test scores.

For a brief horrifying period of time I was a substitute teacher. It was always scary to drive over to a strange school, to check-in with the receptionist, to walk into a classroom of 10th graders or fifth graders or Oh-ma-Lord kindergartners.

In some ways doing an author visit is like being a sub. You don't always know where you're going. Like, where the school is. Or where to park your car. Or how to walk through the, er, metal detectors.

But in a million other nice ways it is not like being a sub. The teacher is sitting there with you, being the main nice thing. So there is no need for you to pull out your rusty classroom discipline skills.What to say to the kid who falls asleep. Or what to do when the fire alarm goes off. Or how to deal with the kid who vomits on his desk.

Not your prob at all when you are a visiting author.

Something that IS the same, whether you are the teacher or the sub or the visiting author, though, and something that I totally forgot (and I don't know how I forgot this!!) is how surprising and funny and smart and sweet and horrible and silly and idiotic and beautiful kids are.

God love that darling boy at the boarding school who saved me from a spider. And the lovely girl who whispered her secret dream and asked what she could say to people who told her it would never come true. And here's hoping that the guy in the front row who'd staggered into class and promptly fell asleep before I even started talking, is getting enough rest these days.

The other day I did a writing lesson at a middle school writing camp and during the idea phase--when we were simply brainstorming memories, one girl was REALLY not getting into the activity. She could think of nothing, she said, and every idea I prompted her with led to more Nothing. The kids at her table, who were supposed to be writing at this point, kept whispering to the girl and she kept whispering back, shooting down their suggestions and writing nothing.

It got on my last nerve to tell you the truth.

Pick up your pencil, I told her (in what I hope was a kind way). Write something. Anything. Writers don't just sit there thinking forever. In the end, if you want to write, you have to WRITE.

Reluctantly, the girl picked up her pencil.

When it was sharing time, she shocked the hell out of me by offering to read aloud.

Her piece was beautiful. I mean, it practically killed me how good it was. After she read it, she smiled sheepishly.

This was a kid that fifteen minutes before I had sorta wanted to throttle, (should I admit that publicly?)  and now I wanted to hug her.

Yeah. So that's why I love teaching so damn much and why it was so hard to leave it behind and why I am ever so grateful that I don't have to.

A bunny in a preschool classroom where it happens to be Yellow Day


  1. Oh, heck, I haven't even STARTED my Yellow Day shopping yet! ;-D

    1. I know, right? I own no yellow clothing whatsoever. I will never make it in preschool.