Back on the Pony

So today was the first time I’ve been in a classroom since November…five months, almost to the day, I think. I got onto the sub list at a private PK-12 school and today was my first assignment. G and I were talking about how teaching is so much a performance that you give every day. You have a costume. (Roomie asked this morning whether it felt weird to be in my teacher clothes again. It did.) You have your cues. (This school plays music at class change, which is an unguent to ears scarred by alarm bells and buzzers.) You have your props. (The daggone braided lanyard like a noose around the neck.  Kidding…sort of.) And you have your lines, delivered in your own characteristic teacher voice. (Mine caroms like a billiard ball between various accents and chooses words like caroms.)

Five months ago I couldn’t and wouldn’t play that part. I couldn’t keep the mask on when I felt the face beneath disintegrating. But today…it all came right back the instant the kids walked in the door. And my goodness, they were LITTLE! And smart. Astounding the difference a few years and a lifetime of good nutrition makes in a child’s physique and faculties. (Dear Title I schools: In lieu of pricey intervention programs or technology gimmicks, consider serving your children a hot, high-protein breakfast and lunch, and see what happens to test scores. Just a suggestion.) I didn’t feel nearly as anxious about letting them fart around a little in class because I knew that they would finish the assignment at home and all would be well that ends well. I can probably count on ten fingers the number of students I have had in the last two years that I would actually trust to do that. (Well, maybe a couple toes too.)

So it certainly felt like an alternate universe most of the day. Where were the hall monitors, the police officers and CPOs, the locker searches, the third-trimester bellies and ankle-grazing pants wandering the halls? I remember going in to get my fingerprints done and actually being surprised that students were walking in lines. And I feel guilty because…well, because I’m programmed to, but why really? Because I have come to expect so little when once I had such high ideals? Because part of me really wants to teach in a school like this where it is easier than in the trenches? Or just because guilt is a handy delayer of meaningful action? (Slam. Ouch.)

My decision to edge back toward the classroom was, to be honest, not motivated by any tremendous desire to change any life except my own. Yeah, I’ve missed being with kids and feeling that unique bond of trust coalesce between us and among themselves. But mostly I needed some sort of income and access to seniors and families in need of photography services if I want to pursue that path more seriously. Then I realized a few weeks ago that if I want to rearrange some of the relational distances in my life, the field in which I have the most training and experience is the most efficient way to get a job in my hypothetical new home. All this to say that I’m not trying to get back on the pony because I’m absolutely in love with the pony, but because the pony is currently the most direct route to where I want to go.

In my conversation with DH a few weeks ago, I declared that I was done being a martyr. That teaching could and should be, at the end of the day, just a job. And I certainly have a far more realistic perspective on that than I used to. But fear and doubt flicker around the edges. As I revise my resume to reflect the past year, I am really struggling with the thought, “I already asked for a second chance last summer, and I blew it.” (G’s response, “So ask for another second chance.” Por eso, te adoro.) Everyone seems convinced that I will be able to find another position, and I guess logically I know that is probably true. But I’m also wrestling with the theology of a comment made by another sub, “Maybe God doesn’t want me to work at this school.” Do I believe in a God who actively throws up barriers, and laughs when we smash into them like birds to a window? Am I centering my life around a God who is as small as I am, and refuses to be placated when His offerings go unappreciated?

I just can’t. Last night as I looked over the sudden deluge of opportunities to pick up some things and drop others, I wondered, “Either God is saying ‘Stay in Columbus!’ or ‘You’re free to go!'” And my friend wisely said, “Maybe God is saying, ‘Jennifer! I love you! Do whatever the hell you want!” (The thought of God cursing amuses me greatly.)

Blasphemy? Heresy? Hope?


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