Growing up, I had many ambitions: pop star, horse whisperer, and probably most realistically, teacher. As a kid, I used to subject my baby brother to hours of carefully orchestrated lessons, which I’m sure he found thrilling. As high school ended, and then my first year of college, I faced a choice. What was I going to be? I thought fleetingly about becoming a medical assistant, but alas, a serious fear of blood and the medical profession do not sensible bedfellows make.
So, what was a relatively artistic bookworm to do? Well, teach of course! I had enjoyed it so much when I was a child, and I’d had some amazing teachers. I could change lives! (Insert eye roll here.)
Four years, one degree, and many utterly naive and cringeworthy rants about education later, I entered the work force. I’d like to say that after the first two long-term subbing assignments, where I felt overwhelmed and underprepared, I reevaluated my career choice and moved on to create and sell my own bohemian pottery out of an adorable little bungalow downtown — but that is not how this story ended.
Last year, I was offered employment in a local school district working in a grade I loved, in a school I loved, with people I loved. I cried in relief when I received the call. I called my mom. I called my fiancé. I was so happy. All I had to do, per the principal, was sub for a few weeks, and by October, I would sign my paperwork.
If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it is too good to be true.
October turned to November, November to December, and December to January, but still no paperwork. As it would turn out, I had been hired under false pretenses and made to believe that there was an opening where there wasn’t. The spot I was filling had been held for a woman that the school district was locked in a legal battle with. Ever the optimist, I chose to stay on as a substitute out of duty to the district and my students.
I finished the school year — the most hellacious year of my life. I had students who punched other students to the point that they were vomiting, only to be sent back to class. I had students cussing and causing complete chaos in my room with zero intervention from our school’s leaders. I had been verbally attacked by parents on multiple occasions, and accused of favoritism and racism. I had parents tell me that I was the reason that their child would fail at life. I sat through meetings with a principal who stared at my chest while I begged for mentorship and support.
Some will say that perhaps I wasn’t very good at my job, and maybe that’s true. Who am I to argue? I can tell you that there were moments in my classroom where I saw children making real connections to other people and the world around them, and it was beautiful to see. I’ve seen student’s express heartbreak over issues in around the globe; I’ve seen children support and build each other up. There are students I will remember for the rest of my life.
But I’ve also seen moments that have made me question humanity and made me seriously consider becoming a hermit.
I gave my time and sanity to a school that cared more about the status quo than it did the safety and well-being of its students and staff. I left the year feeling defeated and ready for a new path. But since you can’t pay the bills with enthusiasm and inventiveness alone, I had to find a job.
In September, I accepted a job at a charter school, telling myself and my family that I would give teaching one more year. This week, as I sat in front of my first-graders, empty vessels ready to be filled with knowledge, I remembered why teaching appeals to so many. Then I looked over, and a little girl was squatting in the middle of a model the neighborhood, peeing. She laughed as she looked me straight in the eye, and all I could think about was whether or not I’m qualified to work as a “Second Assistant Lamp Specialist.”
I guess some vessels aren’t so empty.