Well to be fair, it was a few days after I broke my toe. And I’ve always suspected that what the universe wants is really what I want. So perhaps it would be better to say: I discovered why I wanted to be a Teacher.
In college I had been taught to prioritize the creation of meaningful lessons, classroom management, and evaluation that connected with children’s being-ness and sense of reason. I discovered within only a few days of my Public Ed experience that these priorities were going to have to change, effective immediately: Paperwork, meetings, events, fund-raisers, curriculum mapping, budgeting, inventory, paperwork, paperwork, meetings, events, meetings… all created stiff competition for my time. I was pulling 10-14 hour days during the week, and 5-6 hours on the weekends.
This messy, creative, free spirit suddenly had to organize her life to the enth degree. I was creating systems to organize systems – and I sucked at it. To say I was tired would have made a mockery of the state I was in. Nothing had prepared me for this. I was working harder than I had ever worked in my life – and I still felt like an abominable failure – because to a degree I WAS failing. I couldn’t keep up, I was turning things in late, and forgetting to prep for certain lessons… each day was a reminder that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Back then, I wasn’t aware of the statistics citing how normal this new teacher frustration is. This was something my professors hadn’t shared in our Foundations Courses. I felt wholly alone and incompetent- as if I was the only teacher in the world who couldn’t “hack it.” Some nights I would collapse into tears:
“Is this what teaching is about? If it is, I don’t think I want it.”
Just months before, I had been strategically planning my conquest of the world by infusing Art passion into every young mind that wanted it. I was on top of my class, scored approval from all teachers and students that came in contact with my greatness… and I had somehow plummeted into the depths of “slug under rock status” in quite a short time. They say the bigger the ego – the larger the target to hit – and I was the perfect example.
This rather depressing mess was interrupted the day I wore flip flops on Casual Friday. No wait – it was a Tuesday. I think I was being defiant that day because it was one of the first warm days in April. A pint of tempera paint on my carpet via 2 colliding second graders required me to hunt down the custodian who was sneaking in a cigarette before the day’s chaos began. We walked up the school steps as I explained the paint situation. I was distracted… she was digging for some Orbit in her pocket… I yanked open the heavy metal door with full force- which caught my little toe and snapped it into a position toes are not meant to bend.
To my credit, I “repositioned” the newly horizontal pinky toe quite easily- and came to the conclusion that I was okay. It was just a pinky toe. I laughed over my shoulder: “It’s okay, I’m okay…”
I stood up and took one step into the school, which caused me to collapse. I had never felt pain that made me to want to vomit… and this certainly qualified. I didn’t know how to handle physical duress of that calibre- so I did what many young women in the same situation would do. I cried. Hard. Aides and Admin. came running. I was carried – literally- to the school nurse. Was this for real? I can’t walk because of my pinky toe?
I came to find later at the hospital, that I had literally snapped my toe nearly clean off my foot. But at the time, I was feeling embarrassed at all the commotion my pinky toe was causing. Various people bustled about getting ice, blankets, and three course meals for me. Students walked slowly past the clinic with quizzical stares that seemed to say: I didn’t know Teachers could sob like babies?A Kindergärtner who came in for his morning medication glanced at the nurse and whispered – “Is that Miss B?”
It was a brief moment of relief for me as I suppressed a laugh. I’ll never forget the confused look on his face as he tried to figure out if this woman with the red puffy face and snotty nose could really be his Art Teacher.
At the district’s insisting – I took the rest of the week off. It was surely a wimpy move – one that I gladly accepted and stayed with my parents. I needed rest in more ways than one. That Friday I received close to 100 handmade cards from my school. As I leafed through the pile, with my foot propped up on three pillows – there it was – staring up at me with a crayola creation on white printer paper.
“Hold Art in Your HeART“ it read.
Signed: Hannah Room 17.
Second grade. Fucking Brilliant.
And thus, everything changed.
Just like that.
First published on the excellent blog This Brazen Teacher.
Kindly contributed to Zen Moments by the author
Drawing: For the Artistically Undiscovered (Klutz)
By Quentin Blake and John Cassidy
“The goal of this book is… to provide you with a new tool to express your you-ness… to give you the ability to sneak into the heart of your subject by going direct. We’re not so interested in the appearance of something, so much as the “something” itself.
It’s written for anyone – particularly those who cannot reliably find the pointy end of their pencil… If this book were a piano… these drawings would be bits of improvised jazz…”