Today I stayed at school until a little after 6PM, getting some (much needed) grading done and generally enjoying the solitude an empty classroom affords a weary soul. There is something to be said about a room – once previously filled with abounding energy – now derelict and silent as a still night. Upon switching off my lava lamp and taking final notes in my journal, I sauntered through the grounds to rev up the Green Manalishi (the Jeep for you newcomers) before heading home to some much needed and well-earned respite.
Blaring Sir Elton John with the e’er present cigarette dangling from my parched lips, I casually drove back to my digs to set about my evening rituals. The sun had already set by the time I made it home, a friendly reminder that perhaps I might have been at the school a bit too long. Just shy of 12 hours today.
No matter, I reasoned, for today was a good day. And comrades, any day I wake up is a good day.
Lately I have been feeling as if my calling was misguided; that my brief tenure as a teacher was not the thread of my skein I needed to be following. After all, as I’ve written times afore (nominally whilst on the Way), I am oft unsure of what path I need be pursuing. Indeed, at my age, it is typically frowned upon to be job hopping and taking sabbatical as I am wont to do. Events beyond my control, and a select few wholly of my own doing, attempt to lead me astray from time to time.
But these kids – these magnificent little fuckers – without e’er realizing it, bring me back to grounded reality, coolly reminding me that, yes, my skein has led me here. And, Odin dammit, I am doing good things. They are doing better things.
As I write this from the confines of my meager kitchen, graced by the presence of Soviet propaganda and other curiosities, I am reminded of my charges’ impact upon my well-being.
A poetry book given as a Christmas gift lies atop the table. A new leather journal sits comfortably in my old school bag. Brilliant words and honest thoughts my charges have shared with me – the hallmark of trust – are strewn about my bachelor quarters, ranging from barely legible chicken scratch to assiduously constructed characters. My classroom is adorned in hand-drawn sentiments, gaudy poetry projects, and private letters and keepsakes gifted to me by my goombas. And the words my charges speak to me when greeting one another at the door or passing by in the hall, ah, comrades! Those words shall e’er provide me succor when in my darkest depths of self-pity and loathing.
This morning as I was readying my classroom in a fatigued stupor (a wedding having taken the bulk of my weekend’s productivity), I was greeted at the door by one of my charges who wished to share her creative writing piece in privacy and solitude. As I read her tale of heartbreak and youthful understanding, I asked her why she felt it necessary to share this groundbreaking revelation with me first. She had sought me out afore her friends – even her best friend with whom she’s always chitchatting during class – to seek my input and advice. It appears, comrades, I might have become an adult after all, damndest thing. We talked over her piece and swapped ideas and tales about how best to capture the emotion and really bring the story to Life. A budding writer, a strong one at that, and one who ensured my week was off to an amazing start by seeking my assistance.
Last week I was greeted by one of my Dungeons and Dragons charges (he is an upper classman and not in my direct tutelage) and he juxtaposed himself on the wall I was currently leaning upon. “Sir,” he started, “I have read your Thing We Do Not Speak Of.” It is a running joke amongst my charges that this blog does not exist and has nothing to do with me – deny deny deny. He told me how he read the previous posts, how he read it aloud to his mother, and how the bits about public education made him lament the state of education within New Mexico, but he still got a good laugh out of it. “The stuff you say about us means a lot,” he confided, as I casually shrugged my no-nothing shoulders, a grin emblazoned upon my stupid face. “You’re doing God’s work,” he said in closing, jaunting off to class afore the bell could ring him tardy.
Instances like this, comrades, these passing words and idle chitchats, keep me motivated in my darkest of days. How easy it is to lose sight of the task at hand, to become embroiled in the petty politics and administrative autocracies public education is renowned for, to sink low amidst the refuse and rubbish of standardized tests, misinformation, and power struggles teachers oft find themselves corralled in.
Yet here, in that instant, the manacles of deprivation had been cast off by the kind and honest remarks uttered by a charming goomba, and no amount of adult flak or administrative tyranny could drag me low. Ah, kids, you haven’t any idea what you mean to your “bat shit insane” instructor. And yes, that’s an actual quote from one of my promising writers. The very same from this morning.
I have worn a great many hats throughout my tenure on Earth: salesman, security guard, student, wanderer, farmer, volunteer, journalist. No profession gives me greater joy than being a teacher. Really and truly, comrades, this is my calling. At times it is wholly taxing and I find the effort needed to survive in this trepidatious world to be almost too great; how the kids provide nectar! The pay is terrible, the administration is aloof and out of touch, the state has it out for us, the bulk of the public is unaware, but these little fuckers make it all worth the while.
I’m a teacher. It took me decades to arrive here, but sweet Christ, I’m a teacher.
Now finish your essays (and stop reading my blog).
Smoke. How I love watching it curl into the night air. Gray against the blackness of the dim night. Stars peeking out from behind the somber clouds, their faint light further obscured by the emanating ember of my fingertips, by the plumes I exhale upon vodka-tainted breath.
Ah, if only the kids knew what I was really like outside the classroom.
It has been a spell, certainly, dear reader(s), and I can run through my numerous excuses as to why I haven’t put finger to keyboard in some time. Certainly, my personal journal is stained in all manner of mad scribbles (courtesy of a sexy, new fountain pen), but I find myself lacking – wanting – when it comes time to pen things for my poor, beleaguered blog.
Inspiration; when did she desert me?
Teaching, I suppose, has consumed my day-to-day Life, as I find myself in a constant battle to keep ahead of grading (like the Germans in world wars, I consistently lose) and I oft struggle to present new information in an interesting, and engaging, manner. Wearing a bathrobe to work helps, but woe to the new teacher forced into a dull curriculum that focuses on teaching-for-the-test and not on critical thinking.
Here’s where I make a typical excuse about how I’m pressed for time due to being a tired teacher with no recourse from grading an e’er growing mound of papers and spending all my free hours volunteering about the school. How difficult it is, then, to be a poor, beleaguered teacher beset on all side by obligations.
My favorite teachers were those men and women who treated their students like humans. Not as little sponges ready to absorb information and be able to recite it at some future date, but those educators who put themselves on our level so that we might better be able to understand and perform to their exacting standards. Those teachers who worked us like dogs, but treated us as people. Those instructors who were so knowledgeable and passionate about the subject you couldn’t help but become infected by their enthusiasm. Those beacons of Hope in the endless sea that is public education; those foundations for achieving greatness; those brilliant souls who worked tirelessly, never complained, and pushed you ever onward on the path to self-enlightenment.
I attended New Mexico Military Institute for my high school years, skipping out on my hometown, not out of malice or for discipline reasons, but for a jumpstart to something different. Here, I thought, I can achieve greatness.
I certainly didn’t achieve greatness (though I did attain a certain level of infamy in the English department for my brazen shenanigans), but I was put on the straight and narrow by a number of my instructors.
Forgive the sparse updates; between being a full-time English teacher, my own graduate schooling, and the various shenanigans I found myself obligated to uphold, finding time to write for the blog becomes almost Sisyphean.
Yet around the D&D table – where wisdom is freely exchanged amidst peers – I was casually reminded of the importance of indulging one’s self here and there.
“If you enjoy it,” he quipped, “you’ll make the time for it.”
Ah, comrades, how true are those blessed words. Yes, I do enjoy writing for writing’s sake even if I’ll never afford food again. That is mighty fine for man cannot live on bread alone, right?
Oh my, how my hubris has taken a turn – quoting Jesus now am I? Showing off my grad school prowess? Someone rein me in, please.
Now then, on to the meat and potatoes of today’s mad ramble.
And for you Administrator types that are concerned I penned this during working hours, rest assured this was first composed the night of 10 September over a few PBRs, coffee, and cigarettes. Scheduling a post is pretty groovy.
But if you want to start including that Blessed Trinity during working hours, you’ve my support.
As a new teacher, I promised myself I wouldn’t return to my classroom throughout the bulk of summer, only entering those magnificent halls once August rolled around. This promise was made to preserve what little sanity I have left, and, as any teacher will attest, it’s simply bad juju for the nerves to visit school during the off-season. Who the hell wants to work during vacation, right?
August First being a holiday, and the second being designated Wine Recovery Day, it wasn’t until the third I finally ventured to those quiet grounds consecrated in the name of furthering erudition. I set about the laborious task of cleaning off the walls (to make room for future pupils’ artwork) and rifling through stacks of papers (who left those about?) to get the classroom back in working order. The likes of Marx, Plato, and Socrates watched in complete silence as I set about my task, never once complaining that my weird fascination with Finnish metal was maybe a bit too loud.
In the middle of my favorite part of a particular piece, the solemnity of my room was invaded by the likes of the head custodian, who proceeded to lecture me for transgressions months old. How was I supposed to know marking on the floor with semi-permanent marker was verboeten? Nobody tells me nu’fink, guv.
After her lovely list of DON’T’S and DEFINITELY DON’T’S, she left me to my 12 Labors. As I set about returning to my task, my principal entered with a sad smile: clearly someone had died.
Well, no, not really.
But she was visibly upset as she relayed the news: I had been transferred to the 10th grade and placed in charge of every. single. honors. class.
She had me sit as she explained the full scoop. No longer was I Mr. Bruelhart, Crusher of 9th Grade Dreams and Draconian Disciplinarian with a Penchant for Fun; no. Now I was Mr. Bruelhart, Upended First Year Teacher with 12 Days to Rewrite My Summer’s Work for a 10th Grade Audience.
The title is a bit long, I’ll admit, but orders are orders and the title stays.
I have oft joked that schooling is an awful lot like the military: your superiors are fighting to prevent being outflanked and outgunned by their superiors, boots on the ground catch all the flak, no one of any rank has any idea what is going on outside their immediate vicinity, departments don’t communicate with other departments, logistics is a nightmare, orders are consistently countermanded (at least thrice), and the uniform regulations are constantly changing because fuck you that’s why.
In that moment as she relayed my transfer/promotion/maybe we can make him quit by playing musical teachers/reassignment, I was one part confused, one part upset, and one part elated.
Confused, because, hell, why me? I’ve only been doing this gig for a single semester. How can these people trust me to teach Honors English? For you out-of-state types, Honors is the Advanced Placement equivalent without all the fluff and nifty upper level guidelines. Thankfully I attended two Advanced Placement workshops this summer – time to put that book learnin’ to use!
Upset, because I found out about this rather significant plot development less than two weeks before school starts. Surely someone in the know could have contacted me about the transfer when orders came down from higher. And unlike a normal job, I cannot barter for more pay or privileges when a transfer is possible – not in the teacher world! Now I have to take all of my summer’s labors and tweak them for upper level, (theoretically) motivated kids who are far past the realms of Romeo and Juliet. Pain in the bottom, to be sure, but nothing that will kill me. The grinding of the teeth ended hours ago, I assure you.
Elated, because, Hell. Yeah. I get to teach Honors! And 10th grade! Imagine the look on those kids’ faces as they receive their schedules, thinking they are rid of me for good as I wallow in Freshman English, only to see ENGLISH II: BRUELHART. Ha! Fate, you magnificent bitch; this is comedic gold. What’s more, Honors is supposed to be a more strenuous and difficult classroom environment – no more telegraphing or pulling punches. These kids gon’ learn today. And Julius Caesar. I get to teach Julius Caesar! Strength and honor, comrades.
There are many times throughout our lives where we are presented with a vast change that dictates the ebb and flow of things to come. Going from 9th to 10th grade with only a semester’s experience isn’t exactly ideal, but it isn’t the worst thing to have suddenly arrived from out of the blue. On the contrary, this seems minor, all things considered. A change, most certainly, and one that shall be met head on with gusto.
That’s the least we can do, no? Rather than whimper as a beaten hound, or find a craven way out, we must keep moving forward. This isn’t the time for complaining; no, far from it. This is the time to seize the day and make something better through adversity.
Ultreia, then, is apt. We keep moving forward. 9th, 10th, whatever. This setback is going to be the catalyst of progress and change – and how I relish chaos.