Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sentimental Journey

I think it was in May of my first year of teaching that I realized I really liked my career. I made a somewhat reluctant entry into the field. Mom told me I should pick a career that would mesh well with my husband's, because he would be the breadwinner and I would need to follow him wherever his job led. I didn't even question this! I was not crazy about the options she recommended though. She can be a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher. Which will it be? I had secret designs on a life as a writer, but never told her that. I knew I would be a lousy nurse--I was not crazy about the sight of blood and not particularly nurturing. I had worked for Dad doing office duties for all my teen years and knew I did NOT want to be a secretary. Still, I wanted a college education and thus went along with the teacher idea. I did assert myself enough to insist on majoring in English and MINORING in secondary ed and history. I took the absolute minimum of ed classes and frankly some of them were pretty lousy. I soaked up the English and history and secretly held on to my dream to be a writer.

Then I found myself in a 7th grade classroom teaching English to some very disadvantaged kids in Arlington Texas. They could SEE Dallas but had never been there. They had no idea who was running for president that year, or who should win. This reveals my age, but it was Humphrey vs. Nixon. The kids were a mix of African American, Native American, and a few Anglos. Their parents were not the types to darken the door of my temporary building on parents' night. A number of these kids had been shipped to an industrial area from a reservation in New Mexico, for their parents to take low paying jobs in factories nearby. They had last names that were nouns like Fish and Wolf, and they longed for home back in New Mexico. The more experienced teachers had the brighter kids whose parents were PTA officers and volunteers. Nothing in my college years had prepared me for this batch of reluctant scholars. Still, at the end of the year, I found myself feeling sad to tell those kids goodbye. I was leaving the district and getting married, and it seemed unlikely that I would ever come back to Arlington.

I can still see some of these kids in my mind and actually remember some of their names. There was Greg, who horrified me one day by raising all his books and materials above his head and slamming them down on the floor. It was a pretty big stack of books and made a very loud and dramatic sound. Unnerved, I sent him to the principal. Later that administrator, the best principal I ever had, came to my room and told me that Greg said, "I don't know why I did that in her class. She is the only person here who ever tried to help me." I also remember Bob, who wrote in an essay that he wanted to kill his mother. I brought him up to my desk and said I could not give a grade on a paper that said that. Surely he didn't mean it, and could he just write another? He looked me right in the eye and said, "You don't get it. I. Really. Want. To. Kill. My. Mother." He refused to change his work and I went ahead and gave him a grade. I was too inexperienced and lacking in confidence to do anything else about his revelation. Why I didn't have the gumption to go to the school counselor, or try to help him in any other way, I don't know. I have always wondered what happened to those two boys, and many of the other kids I had in class that year.

This entry has zero to do with librarianship but I CAN throw in a little technology. I brought in my own cassette tape recorder one day, the same one I was using to send my fiance tapes while he was in VietNam. I had them all read a little and then played back the recordings. These kids had never heard their own voices. One kid, a big boisterous girl who scared me more than a little bit, got mad at me. She insisted that was NOT her voice and somehow I was playing a trick on her! Ironically I had tried to keep from making her mad all year and then achieved the feat by doing something that I thought would be fun for all.

I guess I am thinking of these kids because I am ending another school term and having some of the same feelings of not wanting to tell my students good-bye. I had a great group this semester, one that really embodied words like collegial and collaborative. The neat thing about my students today, beyond the fact that they are all over-achieving graduate MLS students, is that I don't have to say good by, farewell, probably won't know what becomes of you. I can keep up with them and the will join the many grads from our program who are out there in the schools doing great things with their students. Thanks ladies, you've been a great group!


  1. I think you will appreciate this story I heard at a recent conference. A school librarian was retiring. A student interviewed her for the school newspaper and asked her why she became a librarian. She replied: "When I was growing up, there were not a lot of choices for women. I knew I didn't want to be a secretary and type all day. And I knew I didn't want to be a nurse and look at half-naked people all day. I also knew I didn't want to be a classroom teacher and tell kids what to do all day. I type on a keyboard all day and tell half-naked teenagers what to do."

  2. I've heard professionals in psychology and teaching say most of us have a strong desire to apologize to our students/ clients from our first year(s)...

    I'm psyched because several of our students have decided summer will be an excellent time to improve reading and writing and technology skills. They'll be back ;)