Baptism by fire

Growing up in a home where my mother was a teacher, along with my aunt and two uncles, we spent family holidays discussing contracts, unions, school budgets, and board of education elections. Very often the discussions would become heated over whose situation was the best, and whose was worst. And in the summer . . . I remember going into my mother’s classroom  to help her set up. Cleaning summer dust from the books and instruments, moving desks to a new formation, helping her to update faded bulletin boards to new. And all the while I longed to play on the playground I spied through the window. Growing up I had no intention of ever getting into education.

A college graduate, the twists and turns in my ‘big plans’ landed me a sweet job waitressing to pay bills. Not exactly what I imagined when I mapped out my American Dream. One slow day while waiting on a table of 2 gentlemen I engaged in some conversation. Coincidentally, they happened to ask if I knew anything about science. Having graduated with a pre-medical studies minor, I laughed. It felt as though my actions in the past month had shifted me far away from utilizing the science knowledge I had spent the 4 years prior gaining. They asked if I would be interested in a long-term 7th grade science sub position at Draper Middle School. It paid $65/day. On a good day waitressing lunch I was making $50/day. After a few questions I decided it might be a good opportunity.

When I went home that night I told my mother my serendipitous tale; she thought I had lost my mind. I had verbally agreed to teach science to an inner city ‘rough’ middle school 7th grade class – on the spot, site unseen. First she verified that I hadn’t signed anything – she was more nervous than I was. She helped me lay out professional clothing, gave me a list of questions to ask so I would be prepared for my first day of teaching, and she helped me pack a bag full of food in case they wanted me to observe the class for the day.

I agreed to meet the gentlemen diners at 7:30 am in the school office.  Upon my arrival, I was immediately escorted down the hall and welcomed by 25 students running crazily around a classroom – MY classroom. The principal said “Thank you. Here is your first class for the day”. As he left I realized the next few minutes would control everything. “In your seats” I stated, in the most authoritarian voice I could muster. The students sat down. In a panic I introduced myself, writing my name on the board. I asked them to take out something with which they could write. I passed out whitish paper that I found on the side of the desk and out of my mouth came, “Today we are going to trace our hands”. Big-eyed I nodded, the students’ eyes widened, they nodded and began to trace their hands. Wheww…that worked for the first day.  I think that’s what they call “baptism by fire.” The next period I received a schedule, student names, and was told where the photocopier was.

My first few days I flew solo. I exchanged daily “Hello”s with the secretaries and janitors, but no other teachers came to talk with me. The principal stopped by twice; each time so I could fill out pieces of necessary paperwork. My mother helped me plan my lessons. Much to her chagrin I was teaching about the body systems, which weren’t covered until the end of the year in most texts.

I was formally introduced at the next faculty meeting. The science teachers warmed up to me but it was a slow process. We shared resources, discussed students, and touched base on school procedures. Just about the time I finally felt settled in the principal stopped by to tell me that they were going to post the position with the hope of filling it at the change of semesters. He strongly encouraged me to apply, stating I could easily balance teaching and my course work.  He had my transcripts and had a rough outline of what classes I would need to take to be certified to teach. He had also taken the initiative to call four area universities. He gave me the pros and cons of each and encouraged me to talk with my new colleagues to learn about their experiences before making any decision.

It turns out, the students at Draper Middle School found their permanent science teacher as I found my way; graduate school for education. My one regret is never going back to say goodbye to my first class of students or to say thank you to the staff (especially the secretaries + principal) that supported me as I stumbled along the path toward what would become my life’s work. I am an educator today because they saw a gift that I couldn’t recognize. They elevated me. I could never thank them enough.

Special thanks to Lisa Hollenbach at the National Blogging Collaborative for help with this entry 🙂

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