Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Day of School

Monday was the first day of school for me at my new school. I'm excited, nervous. It's the second day today and I still feel a little like I did when I started Kindergarten, which I remember quite clearly. I wore a green and white dress with a smocked top and a bow in the back. I was petrified of the bus. Kids now don't ride the school bus like we did back in September of '78. I've never understood why this happened - why parents all of a sudden decided to all drive their kids to school themselves. I didn't like the bus at first, but pretty soon I grew to look forward to it. I met my childhood best friends and learned social skills on my school bus rides. I got to know the kids who lived near me and we all played together because we met on the bus. It was fun. I remember we had one bus driver, Miss Connie, who conducted huge bus sing-a-longs. We loved her.

I can't believe that I started school 31 years ago. That is a little disturbing. But now, 31 years later, I'm not the student. I'm the teacher. Eight years ago, if you had told me that I would be teaching college, I would have laughed in your face.

You'll have to forgive me. I'm in the middle of one of those (as Oprah calls them) full circle moments. I'm not as coherent as usual.

Here's the deal. A little over seven years ago, scared shitless, with no confidence, a destroyed person, I started taking classes at a local Community College. I was ashamed, miserable and petrified. I didn't think I could do it. I didn't think I had what it took to go to college. I knew I would fail. Monday I went back there as a teacher. To the exact same school.

A lot of my colleagues in academia disdain the CC. They feel they are above it, that they deserve to teach in fancy esteemed Universities. Not me. I'm damned proud to have the chance to teach at the school where I got my AA. Some people laugh at an AA degree, but to me, a timid girl with a GED, getting that AA degree was a big deal and a big milestone that helped me keep going. No one should ever laugh at someone else's accomplishment. Success is subjective and what might seem small and insignificant to one person, is a huge, big deal to someone else who should not be discounted. I will never, ever look down on my students. I will always be able to empathize with them because not so long ago, I was one of them.

The first class I took at Community College was an Introduction to Speech class that was required. I dreaded it. I couldn't imagine getting up in front of a room full of people and actually talking and telling stories. I would rather have worked in the strip club for the rest f my life and believe me, I did consider it. On my way to class that first day I consoled myself by saying that if it was really that bad that I could drop. This was an experiment. I didn't have to do it. I didn't really have to go to college.

But then I got to the classroom and the very first thing that I noticed was that my teacher had a tattoo on her ankle. She was a tall woman. She looked like she'd be into motorcycles and she had a hint of possibly a New Jersey or Philadelphia accent. One thing I will tell you is that Dr. A didn't look like I imagined a teacher would look. She wore sandals with her dress. And the tattoo. I couldn't get over the tattoo. On a teacher!! And as soon as she started going over the syllabus she captivated me. All I wanted to do was listen to everything this woman had to say in her strong, powerful voice. She told us stories. She spoke clearly and confidently and made sense. She didn't confuse me like other teachers had and she never made me feel stupid. Her class was never, for one second, dull. She always had us on our feet, moving, solving problems. One class we even made posters for one another. The whole class was designed to make us feel confident and proud so we could get up in front of people and speak boldly and with clarity. It was an early morning class and I couldn't wait to go.

One thing I learned from Dr. A is that the classroom is a laboratory for students. It is a safe place to experiment and that in the classroom, it's ok to mess up sometimes and that students shouldn't be expected to be perfect because they're in school to practice.

"Mess up in here," she said, "Because then you'll know what to do better when you're out in the career world."

I had never thought of school that way before. I always thought I had to be perfect all the time, but I carried her words with me as a student and later when I became a teacher too. I tell my students the exact same thing. It's ok to try something new and not have it be perfect. Be brave enough to experiment.

I experimented all through school, especially in grad school with my writing. If I hadn't had Dr. A, I probably wouldn't have been a writer. I would have taken a safer path. Even if I had still gone for my MFA, I don't think I would have grown so much as a writer and tried so many crazy things in my writing without giving myself that freedom to experiment and to mess up, and Lord knows, MOST of my experimental moments in writing have failed. But at least I tried, and for every failure I learned something or got an idea for something else that worked better. I really do attribute all that to Dr. A.

Last week I had to go do some new hire/ officey paperworky stuff. I had to go to the office of the Dean of my department to do it. I wasn't thinking much about anything other than all the tasks I had to complete before school started. The Dean came out of her office and the first thing I saw was the tattoo on her ankle. It was Dr. A!!

Dr. A is now the Dean of my department at my new school!! I had no idea because I was hired by the department chair. As soon as I saw her I got so excited that I just blurted out, rather unprofessionally:

"Hey!!! You were my speech teacher!!!!!"

And because she is so wonderful, she replied:

"HEY!! You were my student!!!!"

And we had a moment. I mean, it was almost eight years ago and the woman has had thousands of students since me, but she says she remembered me. I told her my story and she seemed just as happy as I was that I was there teaching now. She even gave me a personal tour of campus and during our faculty back to school meeting she told everyone about how I had been in her class and now I was a teacher. She made me feel great all over again and I am thrilled, THRILLED, to actually get to work with her and all of the other just as great teachers there.

It may sound corny, but I want to do for my students what she did for me.


Gina said...

I don't think it's corny at all. I think it's great - we all have had great teachers, and it's nice to know there is one more out there in you.

Living in Muddy Waters said...

Aw shucks, here I was about to answer why parents don't let their kids ride the school bus and your post just veered off into something that brought tears to my eyes. I can't leave the answer now.

So I'll just say "GO YOU!!" (That's a huge compliment in my world.) And my word verification is "prize', how cool is that?

Angela said...

That isn't corny at all. Thats inspiring and amazing to me! I would kill to have had a teacher like that at the college I went to.

Wide Lawns said...

But wait no, I still want to know why kids don't ride the bus anymore.

Karen said...

Goose. Bumps.

Hurrah, for you! Best of luck in the coming weeks.

Amanda said...

That is not corny! Good luck with your new job, it sounds like it is off to a great start!

I had to take the bus until I was old enough to drive, my parents didn't drive me. I'm 25. I guess a lot has changed?

Jocelyn said...

Congrats on a GREAT START! You'll be awesome!!

My kids ride the bus, we're in a pretty rural area. However, I did not let them ride the bus in the mornings when we used to live on the BIG "Let's do 75 in a 55 zone" highway. (And I drove right past their school on the way to work.)

MtnMama said...

First, yay for you and your marvelous story! I know what you mean - I have come a LONG way myself and sometimes I have to pinch myself. I am now just finishing my BA - days, mere days after my daughter started kindergarten. That was an inspiring story and I know you are a great teacher, in part because of your warmth and empathy.

Second. The bus. I took the bus as a kid, too, until we moved and I could walk to school. I drive my daughter, even though the bus is an option. This is why (I don't know if this applies to anyone else):

She is a sweet little blonde thing and I can't leave her standing on a street corner every day like an advertisement for some whack job. The buses are not safe, do not use seat belts, and bus drivers are not consistently the best out of the employee pool. In my own vehicle, I know where she is and how she is, and that she at least made it to school in one piece.

Living in Muddy Waters said...

Since you asked, one of my church kids was sexually assaulted on the bus. The driver watched it happen and did nothing because she was afraid of the student doing the assaulting. TThat's why E doesn't ride the bus.

There is no way one adult can manage 48 kids while driving nowadays. That's not a knock on busdrivers, they do the best they can, but kids have changed and a lot of parents just don't get involved.

Shannon Culver said...

You are cool. I like you. And that is all I have to say about that.

kerry said...

I think it's fabulous that you're such a caring teacher! I think it's fabulous that you had such an inspiring teacher- we need more like the two of you!!

And I agree with you about Community College. I've spent a lot of time in CC and had the same ratio of good/not so good teachers as in the 4-year universities.

May you have a fantastic school year and may all your students care as much as you do!

Architect Critic said...

Great story. I'm sure you are a great teacher.

When I was in grade school, I was given a choice: ride the bus, ride my bike, or walk. Most of the time I rode my bike. It was 7 miles each way, but I could still get to school faster than the bus and therefore didn't have to wake up as early.

Nanci said...

WL - Congrats! You are very inspiring. I wish you the best of luck during this school year. I know your students will feel the same way as you did about Dr. A!

I have to say about the bus situation - My mother was the best school bus driver ever! She was always ery aware and constantly checking children and making sure safety was top priority. One time the kids got such a kick out of the fact that a turtle was crossing the road and in danger so my mother put her hazards on and picked the turtle up and helped it cross the road; needless to say, she scared the poor turtle and it peed all over her! The kids couldn't stop laughing that whole year! Every Friday she had her candy bowl (even other bus riders got to sneak a piece) and at the end of the year she would purchase shaving cream, silly string, pizza and soda for th kids to have some fun, and YES I was on hand after school to clean the mess. Kids do not ride school buses these days because 1.) Where I live, the rich parents provide BMW, Benz', Escalades to their 16 year old children 2.) The amount of increased violence, i.e. beatings against each other and even the bus driver, kids stealing, abductions at bus stops (2 in past year in my "safe" community) 3.)the desparate need for bus drivers allows anyone to be able to care for children and 4.)no seat belts

This does not limit to bus drivers though - look at how many teachers are now abusing students with threats and sexual misconduct. I am so thrilled that there is now another honest, loyal and caring teacher who will work with and for her students instead of against them. Thank WL for your dedication!

It is a completely different world in which children grown up now than we did as children. I can only hope those raising their own now can be a prime example of how one should carry themself and act as a human in society.

Good luck this year! We are all rooting for you!

BoB said...

huge props

you've also reminded me that teaching math/physics at a CC while my wide finishes her MFA is a great idea - I don't care what my dept. chair thinks

our daughter doesn't ride the bus because we live 1 1/2 block from her school, she walks or rides her bike

Anonymous said...

I am so happy for you. I had a teacher such as the one you describe. She inspired me to follow in her footsteps. It is a rare gift to have such a love and passion for teaching. I think you will be amazing.

Delainie said...

What a great story! My mom used to be one of those whole-bus-sing-along bus drivers. I remember it being thoroughly embarrassing as a kid, but now I miss it and wish I'd felt differently at the time. She was always so fun to sing with!

Even though she was a bus driver in my school district, if the roads were bad due to ice or snow, she would call and tell me NOT to get on the bus. I would wait for her route to be over and she would drive me to school late instead. I always thought it was odd till I had my own kid and realized there's no way I'd put him on a bus in those conditions. If we were going to slide off into a ditch he was going to be safely in a carseat in my car. There's just too much going on in that bus environment for me to be comfortable on those school-should-be-cancelled days. The rest of the days he'll ride. It's fun! I met some of my best friends on the bus, and we are still friends all these years later!

Also, I hope someday I run into my life-changing teachers! Your school year is going to be fantastic!

Sadi said...

What a cool and inspirational story! Best wishes on the next leg of your journey.

Someone someday will write about your teaching skills and passion, I'm sure.

kjl said...

What a wonderful story. Congrats on your new career!! :)

KT said...

So not corny! I loved this post -- and Dr. A sounds like an amazing person to look up to and emulate. After this post, even I want to be as great a teacher as she was, and I don't even know her (and, incidentally, am on the fence about the teaching part).

As for riding the bus, I'm 23 and rode the bus all 13 years of school, and emerged essentially trauma-free. I think the worry is mostly about the other kids...there were definitely drug deals going down in the back of my high school bus. And my bus driver, a very tiny young woman, was not about to head back there and get in the middle of whatever the enormous football players/drug dealers were doing. Still, I sat in the middle/frontish area with my own friends and never had a problem.

JDogg said...

That is a great story today - what a way to come full circle.

Jean said...

Two of my best teachers were community college teachers. One was a history prof who was hard nosed and amazingly annoying, but for some reason made me try harder and get better at writing essays. I think it ws a case of "I'll show YOU!"

My math prof was a sweetheart who understood test anxiety very well -- for those of us who were truly awful at math tests, we'd go into his office during the regular test and he'd talk us through it. He wouldn't give the answers, but he'd say remember that problem we did two weeks ago? Think about that solution. He humanized the test, and basically said we knew the material, we just needed more help knowing we knew it.

My Penn State profs were all too busy being professorial to care about the students....

Consultant Calamities said...

I'm a mother of a young child who will NOT ride the bus as long as I can help it. I don't care if anyone calls me crazy or overprotective, but the stuff that goes on on the school busses these days SCARES the crap out of me.

Drugs, SEX (!!!) yes, actual SEX, etc etc. No, I can't control every situation he's in, but I *can* control this one. I have a part time job, so I'm available to drive him to and from school. Its only about 5 mins away, so I don't mind. One less place for trouble to happen.

Another mom I know said "Nothing good can come from the bus." I agree!

(for the record, I think I'm close in age to you, and I rode the bus from first grade on...)

Anonymous said...

You are going to be THE most awesome teacher!!! I'm passing along your approach to learning in the classroom to my both of my kids who are going back to school this week. I know it will make things easier for them, and me! Thanks for putting it into words for us.

Dr A Sounds wonderful - just like a teacher we all would have loved to have. (I have a tattoo on my ankle too!) I can only hope my kids someday have teachers as amazing as she is, and you no doubt will be. Your students are lucky to have you. :)

Luna Sea said...

Oh, fine! You actually just made me cry. Did you make that up? Can you rub yourself on my Lit prof please?

Anonymous said...

"No one should ever laugh at someone else's accomplishment" - totally agree.

Also, your story is incredible! what are the chances you'd be working with Dr.A! Amazing :)

Anonymous said...

I didn't take a bus or get driven to school. I WALKED... 3 miles, uphill both ways in the snow. In southern California.

I got my AA first as well. I had many teachers there that inspired me. I went on later to get my BSN, but the AA in nursing served me well.

JoeinVegas said...

The students at our local campus petitioned, and changed the name from Community College of Las Vegas to just College of Las Vegas. I guess they were embarrased too. Now all the signs are painted over, new letterhead and web site, probably quite a bit of money just to change an image?

karen.neeb said...

I'd like to add that it's okay to experiment and fail in the "real world", too. As a recovering perfectionist, that was a hard lesson to learn.

Congratulations on coming full circle. I'm sure that you'll have just a strong impact on many of your students as your teacher did for you. Have fun!

Dawn said...

I'm glad to hear of your account; and no, it is definitely not corny!

I must say that the most inspirational, fun, caring, and good teachers I have had were at the community college I attended (and got my AA). As of right now, I have attended two separate universities...but IWCC was still my favorite.

And, even though I scoff at the idea of being a teacher, I know it may end up happening. And you know where I would end up? At a community college. :)

Miss Kitty said...

Posts like this are why I teach, WL. And you will be the best teacher at your little college--I know it.

Laura said...

I've been reading you for a couple of years, and I love your stories.
Congratulations on this job. You are going to be a teacher that your students will remember. How great is it that Dr. A is still there and you were able to share the impact she had on your life. You were a blessing to her, and will be one to your students!

booda baby said...

One more vote for "not corny." In fact, since it's sincere, it's sincerely noble. I'm so bored with people choosing to be jaded and cynical. THIS, your excitement, shines like a gem. I am uber-duper-confident that you will be the BEST kind of teacher EVER.

sha said...

Some of my favorite moments were at my community college. The teachers were committed, the classes were smaller and personal and I learned! I never felt condescended to and I never had to deal with an uppity TA. Sure, the mentality was a bit high school amongst the younger students but because I was older, I always felt I was respected because I did go. I don't think my sister ever felt that way at her university.
I'm looking forward to eventually going back to a cc and finishing.

Serious Replies Only said...

I once accidentally dyed my hair primer grey. Lord, it was awful.

LegalMist said...

What an awesome tribute to your excellent and inspiring teacher!

And you are so right. Community College *is* a big deal and an important step for a lot of people, and should not be dismissed as anything less. And many community colleges have professors who are far more dedicated to teaching than the ones at universities, where the focus is often on research and publishing instead of on the students. I am glad you had Dr. A; otherwise, we might all have missed out on your fun stories.

As for why kids don't ride the bus anymore, there are a lot of reasons. Districts often don't provide transportation if you live within a certain distance of the school (I guess they expect those kids to walk), but that distance may be too far or across too busy of a street for your 6 year old to handle. Districts won't provide transportation to kids who are "out of district" and there on "open enrollment" (such as my kids). And some parents find it easier or more convenient to simply drop the kids at school on their way to work, rather than waiting at home for the bus to come by. Probably there are other reasons, too, but those sum up the reasons why my kids have not, so far, been able to ride the bus.

Anonymous said...

This post made me so happy! Good for you and everyone who has the courage to try!

Michelle in Iowa

woolywoman said...

Very, very cool. Now you get to be that teacher to someone- probaly a lot of someones.

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