Thursday, January 7, 2010


“I watch the ripples change their size

But never leave the stream

Of warm impermanence and

So the days float through my eyes…

Time may change me

But I can't trace time”

- Bowie, David, Song “Changes”

Yesterday, I finally got another job at the high school, this time for Math, which wasn’t a subject I could be of much help, but it was in my favorite Learning Community. On the way out the door, I longingly eyed my bicycle, regretful that there was too much snow on the ground for me to feel comfortable riding to school. Perhaps it should hibernate in the basement until spring, instead of being a prop for snow shovels. When I was an assistant, I walked to work every day. This fall, I regularly rode my bicycle, but since November I’d done little aerobics and my skin beginning to react like one of those memory foam pillows with the plush top.

The classroom was near the office and easy to locate. (Huzzah!) In the room, the plans indicated that I’d have three blocks (as expected), which would entail one Pre-Calculus and two Mathematics 2 classes, whatever that meant. Last period, in Mathematics 2, had two students I’d previously taught in the fifth-grade, who had been high achievers, so I hoped that was a good sign. At least all of the classes were small. I could take on ten to thirteen students, right?

First period, the students were quiet, but bored. Most did their work, some so quickly that they began their homework packet. Others were lethargic. Two fell asleep. Since I was at the tail end of a cold, and my daughter had a nightmare at 4:12AM from watching the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” DVD, I was tempted to join them. I wasn’t on top of my game, and feared I’d slide even lower as the day progressed.

One student asked, “Is there an answer key?” I told her there wasn’t and was tempted to add, “Don’t look to me for help.”

Second period had a support teacher in the room as well. I think the class would’ve run smoothly anyway, but it was nice to have an extra person.

I thought about going home during my long break, but decided to stay to write and read. Truthfully, the thought of walking to the car, driving home, doing chores, driving back, and walking again seemed like too much exertion. Because I’d been at this school a number of times, I decided to be social for lunch and eat in the teacher’s room. I could say it was cold or use a dynamic adjective like frigid or glacial, but I’ll just say that the ongoing construction, with the adult-sized rubber doggie door through the glassless window would make eating in the room analogous to picnicking outdoors on a day when snow refused to melt under a cloudless sky. No wonder the room was bereft of teachers. I microwaved my lunch and fled.

My favorite thing about working at the high school (besides the relative maturity of the students) is that there’s a Starbucks across the street. This wouldn’t be much of an anecdote except that a police officer was at the cross walk, and when he stepped out so I could cross, a car missed him by inches. When the officer made her roll down her window, I thought the driver was going to give her a ticket, but instead he reprimanded, “Don’t look down when you’re driving, even for a second.”

During last period, my former students had a tough time grasping that I was:

1) Not working at the old school in the fifth-grade although I

was standing right in front of them.

2) A substitute teacher, even though we’ve greeted each other

in the high school halls over these past months.

I guess students picture their teachers frozen in place, in the same way that teachers imagine students frozen in time. In kindergarten, my son thought his teacher lived in the classroom, waiting for students to return because she only existed as “teacher”. For me, it’s a jolt to see former students in the future, older and taller and different. These tenth-graders are light years from the children they were a mere five years ago.

While the students’ physical and mental changes are more obvious, I think back to who I was five years ago, teaching Poetry, Word Study, running a reading group, and also teaching Social Studies to fifth-graders for the first time. Back then, I didn’t understand how young ten and eleven-year-olds really were, and I expected more than I should have. I’ve gained much confidence in my teaching abilities since that year. (I’m also a calmer parent, though that may be because my children are older and easier rather than self-improvement). Five years ago, I hadn’t yet let myself be a writer. When I look at it that way, it feels like I’ve accomplished a lot in five years. What will I accomplish in the next five years?


  1. "I guess students picture their teachers frozen in place, in the same way that teachers imagine students frozen in time."

    How true! Through Facebook,I have reconnected with students I taught 30 years ago. I love it, but it is so hard for me to grasp that almost all of them now have children who are now older than when I taught the parents!

  2. I started teaching 5 years ago in my own class but i subbed for four years trying to get a full time position in the area. When I see former students I say foolish things like "You're SO TALL" because, like you said, in my mind they are preserved at that tiny, curious age in 2nd grade. :)

  3. Thanks for the comments Margo, Edie, and lora96.

    Edie, I can't imagine the shock of seeing students from thirty-years ago. My twenty-year high school reunion was enough of a difference!

    Lora, your comment made me laugh because I also always say, "You're so tall!" Subbed for four years? I have nothing to complain about.

  4. I feel like this five-year question is the same thing I should be asking myself.

  5. I don't know what you're trying to accomplish, omchelsea.
    I saw the YA author, Laurie Halse Anderson speak at a conference. She said she gave herself five years to get published, and although she did, she decided there's no reason to put a number on it. Why not five more? I'm trying to have the same philosophy.

  6. I love how you described your winter body as a memory foam top - I feel that way too!

  7. Kathleen, maybe we both need to step up our game.