“Everyone in the circle has to introduce themselves but use an adjective that starts with the same letter as the first letter in your name! I’ll start! My name is Daring Diane!”
I appreciate this part of the week the most because you can always get interesting advice from veteran peer:
“The person, doing all the work is the person doing all the learning; always walk your students through the material so they find the answers rather than handing it over”.
Some, more encouraging than others:
“Get a coffee cup with a cover. Then the little bastards can’t slip anything in your drink!”
“Run before it’s too late”.
Lunchtime is always something to look forward to because the new kids usually go out together. It’s nice to have a group to go out with again, but I can‘t always relate to them because they’re recent newlyweds.
“I had to decide whether I want to be a teacher or a wife, and honestly, my new husband comes first.”
“I love being a dad.”
“I just want to be in education so I can take three months off to travel and raise a family with my new husband.”
Feeling completely dedicated to my profession, I looked down on this attitude; mostly because everyone in the education was engaged and therefore didn’t leave many prospects for college students who were single. This didn’t really apply to me because for my past five years I had been dating a younger girl from the business college, Melanie.
Mel graduated early and already started her career working for a large and popular computer company. She was going to be my sugar mama someday. Not anytime soon though because I’d have to be crazy to get married at 24. I was especially excited to see her today because after two weeks of introductions and paperwork, we received the keys to our classrooms. This wasn’t the smoothest process when the assistant principal had all the keys of the school organized in a small plastic box.
“I think this is the key to the school’s main door. Hmmm… this looks like a room key. No, wait, room keys are more of a brown color. This is like a rusty gold. I tell ya what, Jason…”
“Actually, I’m Josh…”
“Josh, my name… it’s Josh”
“Right, right, right… take this key and if it doesn’t work, come back and I’ll look again, Jason.”
I returned three times before finding my room key. It was a one of the larger classrooms but lacked the windows of the smaller rooms. Two chalk boards took the place of the white boards I was accustomed to from my training. I knew this meant I’d go home with chalk dust covering me at the end of each day. The desks were stacked and shoved against one wall waiting to be spread out. It was in dire need of dusting. I stood in the center thinking about the five years that lead me here and that this was my big “I made it” moment.
Then my phone rang into my moment. It was my, Melanie.
“I really need to talk to you”
“We are talking! Look at this huge blank wall! I need posters from Universities across the country to cover it! Maybe pennant flags?”
“I really need to ask you something…”
“What? What’s the matter? Are you hungry? There’s an awesome Chinese place down the street…”
“No. I just want to talk and don’t want to here.”
“Well, this is my classroom now. We can come and go as we please… I even have a lock on the door…”, I winked at her.
“I’d feel more comfortable at your place”
“Feel more comfortable TALKING! Not doing whatever you’re thinking about.”
Flash forward to my house, she sits on the couch and asks:
“Is our relationship going anywhere?”
Like the sweet grasp of death, every man knows this conversation will come up eventually, but nothing can quite prepare us for it. At that moment, a list of the top ten stresses in my life at that time began to manifest:
10. I’m responsible for all my finances now.
9. I have college debts that need to be paid (yes, that does include bar tabs)
8. I have to learn a new curriculum…
7. …and make lesson plans.
6. I have to create a Creative Writing syllabus!
5. I have to make new friends with co-workers (who are probably more qualified than me)
4. Holy shit I’m not qualified or confident enough to teach Grammar!
3. My parents are struggling because of my dad’s new career choice.
2. I haven’t had any me time lately
1. I hope Melanie doesn’t bring up whether this relationship is going anywhere or not.
We talked, or rather, she talked and I froze. I wasn’t fully prepared for this conversation and I don’t think anyone is considering the circumstances. I was freaked and angry. My career was about to start and this was supposed to be my day. Instead, my girlfriend of five years wanted to know where she fit in all of this.
It was time to shit or get off the pot and do the only unselfish thing I could think of. So I said the only rationale thing that came to mind:
“I think you should leave.”
And after shedding many tears and venting many frustration, that’s exactly what she did.
If I could keep my mind preoccupied, there wouldn’t be time left to reflect, doubt, or think about it. Think about what? Think about the possibility that I won't find someone else or the possibility that I don't want anyone else. Focusing on my career was my moment of peace. The newlyweds, on the other hand, had different ideas:
“I can’t wait to get home and spend time with my husband!”
“I love spending time with my step-kids! Tonight, we’re coloring!”
“My husband’s cooking dinner tonight, again!”
When I get home, my dog greets me. She’s a poor-man’s beagle, a Harrier. We get the mail together and she watches me cook dinner. We eat at the dinner table. She can’t actually sit at the table but she sits on the floor and eats with me. Beyond this routine, I look increasingly forward to finding anyone who’s willing to go drinking with me. After all, drinking alone is just sad and makes you look like some sort of alcoholic! Slowly, I start to reconnect with old friends, mostly female. As cruel jokes go, they’re all currently involved.
Getting nowhere in leaps and bounds, school is about to start. Flash forward through the first week of school:
Day 1: Introductions – name game, Classroom rules, Syllabus
Day 2: Introductions continue – Scavenger hunt, textbooks, supply list, using the agendas
Day 3: The Cask of Amontillado – Introduction
Day 4: The Cask of Amontillado –Reading Aloud
Day 5: Library orientation… and Email from Mandy.
I stopped drinking at this point but wasn’t done feeling sorry for myself. I was, however, very eager to start drinking once the weekend kicked off. It was a nice surprise to receive an e-mail from Mandy, a former co-worker gal pal of mine. She was one of the few perfectly sane women in my life that I came to know over the years, but like all sane women she was already taken. We were good friends to say the least.
Subject: Blind Date?
Hey Josh! How’s the new career? I bet it’s more fun than banking! I heard you’re single again? What’s up with that? Although I know it’s soon, I have someone in mind for you to meet. Would you be interested?
Yes. I was interested.
“Well I don’t drink that much but I’d be happy to meet up with you if it’s not too late for ya!”
“Oh, please! I never sleep anyways! I’m a major insomniac.”
We met on her side of town and closed the bar too. We continued talking in the parking lot but there was never good timing for a “well good night”! She said she wasn’t ready to go home yet anyways. I drove us to my house and we had wine. She preferred red. She met my dog and I gave her a tour of my house. Then we locked my dog out my bedroom. Her whining and whimpering was a huge distraction for me, too (the dog’s, not the girl's)! The shock of having a girl in my life again, the stresses of a new job, the dog’s whining; it wasn’t my best effort in the bedroom but I had a chance at redemption the following night. Then I had another chance the next night and the one after that. In fact I had daily chances over the next few months.
My routine was back. So was my confidence. It would be of really poor taste of me to interject a cliché expression like “it was too good to be true” at this point so I’ll refrain.
5:45 – The second alarm goes off with the snooze.
I slip out and kiss her good bye (good morning?) trying to be as quiet as possible. She always hugged me saying:
“Have a great day”
It was all very familiar again in an odd way. Two weeks of being single and now I’m comfortably in another relationship? No, no. It wasn’t just “another relationship”, it was more. Sure everything this year forced me to hit the ground running, but I was only comfortable with her so quickly because we had a special connection that was different from other people who moved as fast as our relationship was moving.
6:00 – Let the dog out. Leave her some kibble.
6:15 – Work-Out at the gym. Cardio. Free-weights. Bench. Machine Weights.
7:00 – Shower.
7:30 – Dry off. Get dressed.
7:45 – Breakfast: McDonalds, Bruams, Carl’s Jr., or Burger King?
8:00 – Arrive at work fifteen minutes early (just enough time to beat the other teachers to the copying machine; everyone waits till the last minute).
8:30 – Time to learn.
11:45 – Over time (a.k.a. pre-lunch)
12:13 – Lunch!
I was “affectionately” nicknamed Sasquatch among the staff because I didn’t eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge. I honestly learned more about how to be a better educator by listening and observing my students who wanted to waste their lunch time in my classroom. It was also a great way to stay somewhat caught up on the overwhelming amount of paperwork or getting somewhat organized for the elective class.
3:50 – Bus duty
4:20 – Off the clock!
4:30 – The actual time I leave school.
Depending on what day it is, I train at a school for boxing; I’ve done it for about a year and half now. When I’m not doing that, I’m engaged in extracurricular activities: Basketball games, Wrestling matches (not so many football games; I don’t enjoy football), and job required book meetings to name a few. Other familiar activities included less and less time with family, less and less time to socialize, less and less time to take my dog for walks, less time playing video games. There weren’t many weeknights that passed without me staying up in her bed grading papers and reading ahead of my class, always preparing lesson plans. The first year is the hardest because of the amount of preplanning. Sometimes this new goddess in my life would fall asleep and I’d curl up with her putting the paperwork away. Sometimes it would wake her up and we’d stay up another hour together.
My life was complete again. It was almost too good to be true.
“My family runs a local pest control bussiness.”
“Really? ‘Cause I have a bad ant problem this year… think they could hook me up with a little discount on services rendered?”
They can also warn you of trouble to follow:
“I was engaged once….”
“I changed my major four times already….”
“I had less than ten hours left to get my last degree, but then I changed majors again.”
The trick is to recognize these Red Flags early so there are no surprises. The trouble with that is sometimes we choose to ignore them.
It’s challenging juggling newness: new career, new relationships, new romance, and new bills. Somewhere the old responsibilities are included: old family, old bills, old pets, old friends, old hobbies. I was finding it easier to start dropping some of the old responsibilities in favor of the new. After all everything was going great for me and in this new romance, I vowed to be everything I wasn’t in my previous romantic relationship.
“Not every girl with aggressive piercings has ‘daddy-issues’! Hell, even I had pierced nipples a few years ago! Does it look like I have ‘daddy-issues’?”
In my head, I knew exactly how I would have replied in my old relationship.
“Damn, yes. Why else would you do something so stupid if you didn’t want to get back at mommy and daddy?”
I had grown since then. I wasn’t the same immature guy who’d just answer definitively.
“I suppose you have a point, dear. Although piercings aren’t really my thing and… I can’t understand why anyone would want to… well anyway… yeah.”
“I know that isn’t your ‘thing’! That’s why I didn’t get my belly button re-pierced over the weekend!”
“…huh… I thought you didn’t get it re-pierced because you’re friend bailed on you?”
“…that too… but mainly because of you”
“…right…. How about some food? I know an awesome Chinese place near the high school…”
“I hate Asian food. I’ll never eat that crap.”
“… huh… well then…”
“She didn’t bail on me; her boyfriend wouldn’t let her go because he’s an abusive controlling prick. I used to date guys like that, but I wised up!”
“….so you hate all Asian food? Have you tried Tea Café? Nobody hate’s Tea Café.”
“Do you want me to throw up? I don’t want Asian food.”
“My mom lives down that street…”
“Well we should pop in and invite her to come along.”
“No way in hell! She’s insane! We pretty much disown her in my family and do everything possible to keep in touch as little as possible!”
“…she can’t be that bad…”
“You don’t even know!”
“You know I did!”
Compared to what I was becoming accustomed to, this was a pretty tame conversation at the dinner table. Dad sat at the head and grinned. Mom sat adjacent to him. Brother and sister shared a highlight reel of their day.
“So I told that cocksucker…”
“That piece of shit!”
“…and the mother fucker was just glaring at my tits…”
“So I made out with the stripper…”
It wasn’t like any conversation I ever had with my family, but this wasn’t my family. It must be somewhat reassuring to have such an honest and open relationship with immediate family.
“…and then she pulled my tits out without even asking right there on the stage!”
Then everyone laughs. Maybe reassuring isn’t the word I’m thinking about. I’m sure this isn’t what Norman Rockwell had in mind when creating his painting of three generations of family at Thanksgiving Dinner.
I drove home in a hurry afterwards. I wasn’t even listening to the radio. Our last conversation kept replaying in my head.
“Sorry, Angel, I have to put the dog up then I’ll head over to your place for the night.”
“Don't get mad, I just haven’t even been home since this morning otherwise I would have done it earlier…”
“Don’t explain yourself to me I’m just really tired and it’d be nice to get to bed at a decent fucking hour or once.”
Well that was something we could both agree on. With all the juggling, it was an accomplishment to have tomorrow’s lesson plans finished, papers half-way graded, clean clothes ready, and find time to eat before 10:00 PM. If you wanted to spend time with loved ones and family, then you can push that time to 12:00 AM. If your health is important at all, you wake up at 5:30 AM every day giving yourself just enough time to drive back home, let your dog out, feed it, put on sweats, and work out until 7:00 AM.
“Well, if you really wanna go to bed early then I’ll stay at my place tonight. I still have to look at my lesson plans for tomorrow too.”
“Whatever you want just hurry. I’m sick of feeling like and inconvenience.”
It’s that time of year when it’s too cold to leave pets outside at night, but it’s too warm to leave them inside all day. In the summer we’d go running every night; I would clear my head and my dog would get exercise. My dog was gaining weight now. I just didn’t have time to go running like we used to every night. The traffic was going to get me in trouble.
My phone rang.
[INCOMING CALL - MELANIE]
“Nope” I couldn’t deal with that right now. Amy was waiting for me.
It stopped ringing on its own and I pulled up my drive way. Bobby McFerrin played on the radio. Which Bobby McFerrin song? Is there more than one Bobby McFerrin song?
It would be so easy to pick up what everybody else is doing and go with it, but seldom does that make a person great. This goes with all things in life and teaching is no different. There’s a formula for lesson planning that I always criticized when growing up and it goes like this:
Here’s a book; read it + Here’s a worksheet; work it + Here’s a red pen; switch worksheets and grade it = Here’s your grade; eat it
Start over and repeat, over and over and over again.
The truth is we take a lot of pride in the lesson plans we develop even if some are experimental. It’s disappointing when they don’t go as planned, but it’s infuriating when they go unused. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do about, but in my case, even the gods were working against me.
As usual, a hearty chunk of my weekend spent analyzing, cross referencing, note taking, and planning a three day presentation of a modern parallel to Homer’s The Odyssey. Then the ice storm hit.
The first thing that comes to anyone’s mind is FREE TIME! There’s no free time when the gods work against you. Their unprovoked anger turned the whole town in to an ice age war zone! The worst part of any urban war, of course, is losing electricity as winter begins. Gods be damned! My power lines ran underground fully protected from their wrath! Except Satan’s wrath, naturally, but we had a deal.
I wasn’t about to waste a free Monday! That’s what the old me would have done – ran to the girlfriends and play video games or watch television all day. It was time to take care of all the responsibilities I stopped juggling.
1. Walk the dog
She was getting fat. I wouldn’t call it animal cruelty, but she’s a high maintenance breed. Aren’t they all? Am I right, guys? You know I am! High five!
I used to use my washing machine as a laundry hamper, but when you’re never home to do laundry, you have to improvise and use something larger like an extra bedroom.
3. Spend time with Mom
The ‘rents are slowly transitioning to Dallas because of my Dad’s big promotion but my Mom has to finish out the school season in Oklahoma City. I was literally stuck between the two. I’d be sadder that my mom was alone every night and I hadn’t seen her for weeks, but it helps that she takes the time to call me three times a day and make me feel guilty from a distance. Gotta’ love technology.
4. Make new friends with a coworker
There was only one other new teacher that was a male and I took advantage of that by taking him with me into the icy war zone. Besides, we were both bored of being stuck at home due to ice, hungry, and had shopping to do for family members and the department secret Santa party planned for the following day. The real adventure was finding any restaurant that still had electricity!
Then my phone rang.
[Incoming Call – Amy]
“What are you doing?”
“I’m taking advantage of the school closing and getting a lot done today! How’s work?”
“I didn’t go today because I fell down and hurt myself.”
“Holy crap! What, where, when, and how? Can I bring you anything? Can I come visit?”
“No, no I’m on painkillers and really just want to rest…”
“Okay. Then maybe I stop by and visit later?”
5. Christmas shopping
Victoria Secret – about $200 but get your mind out of the gutter! They have sweaters, boots, and the likes too.
Bath and Body Works - $50 for lotions and bubble baths; I don’t “get it” but they’re her favorites, so….
Gordon’s Jewelers - $200 for a necklace and earrings, but they’ve never steered me wrong before! They know me by name now. I’m unsure if that’s good or bad.
1-800-FLOWERS - $70 ridiculous bucks, but why not? I was in a great mood even if I didn’t get to use my lesson plans.
Best Buy - $15 iTunes gift card for Secret Santa.
That takes care of Amy and Secret Santa. I’ll get to everyone else sooner or later.
Then my phone rang.
“Hey how are you feeling?”
“Are you ever going to come visit me?”
“Well yeah but weren’t you resting…”
“Everyone else has come over to visit me and keeps asking about you!”
“Even my co-workers!”
“…And now my powers out!”
“Well I can pick you up and bring you to my place but we won’t be alone because I’m putting some other friends up for the night too because they’re out of power…”
“Do you really think I want to deal with that?”
“Uh….I bought you Christmas presents?”
“Don’t bother I’m going to my parents.”
“Can I visit you over there?”
“Obviously you’re just too busy and I’m a big inconvenience once again!”
At this point, she was starting to make sense and all I could think about was how inconvenient it was going to be returning all these gifts. The wrath of the gods wasn’t over yet as school was canceled for the remainder of the week.
Well, this shit is getting old…