I taught school once. It was at a Catholic girls’ high school. That phrase alone should have warned me off the job from the start, but I was stubborn and love “Dead Poets Society.” In a word, it was hell. I found hell in the halls of a Catholic school. Couldn’t you just choke on the irony? The girls were actually not the problem. Even though they all drove nicer cars than I did, they all had fake fingernails (when did they start doing that?? WE didn’t do that…), they were brilliant, funny and awkward the way all teenagers are.
I spent all my time thinking about school. I woke Husband up in the middle of the night, upset because I thought I hadn’t taught chivalry correctly. I couldn’t go to the movies without obsessing that I had 42 papers to read. I misunderstood the head of the department when she explained how midterms worked and therefore did not have a midterm ready for students when they walked in the classroom to take the test…I thought it was the next day. I spent too long on King Lear. I wanted the girls to think for themselves and not give me whatever would get them an A.
WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY?? I’LL SAY IT. I’LL SAY ANYTHING TO GET AN A. YOU WANT ME TO SAY THE POPE IS A FLAMING HOMOSEXUAL DEVIL WORSHIPPER WITH A PENCHANT FOR YOUNG BOYS? FINE. JUST GIVE ME AN A.
The head of the department was a vile woman. At 34, she was already a spinster in Laura Ashley print dresses, helmet hair, and pursed lips. Her method of supporting me as a new teacher was to go over my lesson plans and tell me what was wrong with them. I did whatever she said. She said I was resistant to suggestion. I said I was frustrated but I was trying so hard. She never suggested that this would be my last year with this school. If I’m honest, I’ll tell you that I fantasize about letting the air out of her tires or signing her up for the Adult Diapers of the Month Club, to be delivered to school.
I’ve never been fired from a job. In fact, you could actually say I wasn’t fired from this one, because their phrasing is, “We’ve decided not to renew your contract.” For someone who had good report with students, for someone who had high standards fitting of this school, for someone struggling in their first year of teaching, and someone who had good observation reports from other teachers…this was a complete surprise.
The first blow was the blindside. The second blow came later. “What on earth am I supposed to say to people next week? When they start asking what I’ll be teaching next year?” The principal, a former nun and very conservative Catholic, said, “Well, you can just tell them that you’ve decided not to come back next year.”
Did she just ask me to lie?
I left. I really left. I went home. The next day, Husband and another teacher cleared out my classroom. The principal sent me an email asking if there was anything she could do, so sorry it had to happen this way. The head of the English department left me a message asking to return some books, “which are the school’s property, not yours.” Vile woman, a pox on your head.
Since then, I’ve realized what a blessing this was. I am not destined to be a teacher. I am going to be a writer when I grow up. Though it was a crushing blow to fail so spectacularly, not a day has gone by that I do not thank God, the Universe and Everything that I’m not there anymore.
Bless you teachers. I’m just going to go write the stuff you can teach in your classrooms.