I didn’t realize that I always wanted to be a teacher. I have always been somewhat of a rebel, so in my 20s, when I quit college in my third year, I realized I had no marketable skills. So, thanks to the government’s generosity, I went to a technical school and got a degree in digital electronics – in other words, computers. My thoughts went something like this: I’m not going be a typical woman and do a typical gender based job. I’m going to do something that most women don’t do.

Tech school was great. After all, I was one of only 2 females in the entire school, so it was me and a whole bunch of guys. This was alright. Also, I happen to be an A student, so all the guys wanted to hang around me and study. Yeah- study. During one of our study sessions, one of my friends saw that my guitar was broken, so we made a Who concert of it and smashed my guitar. It was a fun crowd. 

I got a job immediately out of school because IBM was looking to fill their quotas and there weren’t many women around. They sent me to Chicago for several months to train and gave me a per diem allowance. Things were looking good. And then, when I got home,  reality hit. I had to actually DO something. 

I actually had No  mechanical aptitude. I hadn’t realized that when machines break, it’s mostly mechanical things that break, not electronic. I had bought all these nice dresses, and here I was, sitting on the floor, taking printer chains apart and getting greasy. Back to the store for several tweed, easy-to-wash pant suits. Now I resembled the men I was trying to emulate. Before your mouth drops open,      understand, this was 1980 and women wore dresses to work, and generally didn’t play with greasy things unless it was in the kitchen … or the boudoir. 

So, mostly, I cried. I would call my colleagues, crying, asking them how to put these darned machines back together after I’d ripped them apart. “Did you take it apart in a sequential manner so you know where everything goes?”

 “No”, I sniffled. 

“Well, then, you’re going to have to crack open that manual.”

“What manual? This machine is so old they don’t have it anymore.”

And then, my colleague would have to come rescue me.

After about a year at IBM, we mutually agreed that I’d be better off doing something else. I stayed in the electronics world for another 4 years before I quit and backpacked all over Europe. When I got home, I got married and had children, leaving the world of Paid work behind. 

And one evening, when I finally had time to myself, I sat down with an intoxicant and my writing pad, and I had an epiphany! I remembered what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I had this fabulous easel that was a chalkboard on both sides, I used to pretend to be a teacher. I had an entire class of invisible students – always well-behaved. Of course! I would return to school immediately. 

My new career plan was further confirmed when I visited a friend a month later. When we were in junior high school in Brooklyn, at the end of the year they gave everyone these leather bound books with colored pages inside and a zipper on the outside so your friends and teachers could write something to you for posterity. On the page that I inscribed in her book, 15 years earlier, I wrote that I was going to be a teacher someday. How could I forget something so profound, I wondered? I guess I was too busy with life; I was like Dorothy – I just had to click my heels and I’d be in Kansas.

Okay. Roll forward about 12 years. I’ve gotten my degree, moved to AZ, recently divorced, and I’ve got my first teaching job in Casa Grande. 5th grade. Basically, sucking the life out of me. All the faith I had in humanity – gone. I realize that children are demons, come to bring me to hell. All the ideas I had about helping the children with my graciousness and gifts, lifting them up, helping them learn…poof! 

These kids were hooligans. Mean, mischievous, horrible, small versions of people. I cried almost every day for 2 years. For example, One time, when my back was turned, a few of the kids decided that glitter would be more fun if they threw it all over the classroom. One time, a kid threw a desk across the room. They didn’t listen, they could care less that I was a nice person. Why were they doing this to me? 

Finally, I quit. Oh, I made it to the end of my 2 year stint. Barely. But I survived. Jobless, with only some child support and alimony to live on, I got a job selling cars in the AZ heat, cuz that was better than the heat from classroom hell. I had no intention of ever going back into the classroom.  And then…

One evening, I went to IMPROV in Tempe with my boyfriend. I was a bit inebriated and found the comedian to be hysterical. He pretended to be a teacher, and every 5 minutes he would blow a whistle and pretend to be the kids on the playground. Of course, I could relate. But something profound and kinda surreal happened as I watched him. 

All the kids that I’d had in my classroom, especially the ones who gave me the most grief, started flashing before my eyes. And my laughing, my deep belly-laughs, turned into deep, deep sobbing. My boyfriend looked over at me and saw me crying, and asked if I was okay. “He’s just so funny!” I replied.

In those moments when the kids paraded before me in my mind’s eye, I had a visceral experience deep inside. The kids became real to me. I relived my time with them in the classroom, and I had yet another epiphany! It wasn’t them, it was me. 

I know, that’s the line George Costanza on Seinfeld would say to a failed relationship, right? But it’s true. It wasn’t them, it was me. I had failed these kids. 

They were looking – even though they didn’t know it – for a leader, a mentor, someone who can safely guide them and help them make sense of their chaotic lives. But I was too green. I was trying to survive and I didn’t have the know-how to handle these ‘hooligans’. 

In that moment, I loved them. I forgave them. I forgave myself for being such an abysmal teacher. And I realized that I had to get back on the horse. This wasn’t just about being a failure at a job, or wasting my time in school for years –  it was about giving up something that I was passionate about. If I didn’t go back, the world would never be able to receive my gift. Thank God I did, because, as it turns out, I’m a damned good teacher. And here I am – 25 years later. Still going…

Addendum. I retired 2 years ago. I’m so glad I returned to the classroom. Being an educator was the greatest gift the Universe bestowed upon me. I can’t imagine having done anything else.

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