This morning as I drove to work in a jet-lagged Dramamine-induced fog, I listened to the sappiest most miserable my-heart-is-broken song EVER, and I LOVED IT. I even sang along, in the embarrassing way that you sing along to a song you've never heard before. Then the DJ told me the boy singing this song was Nick Effing Lachey and I had to thwack myself in the head with my kitten-heeled shoe.
I am back from my ninety-degree-I-am-REALLY-tired-of-playing-with-trucks vacation and while there are about 487 precious moments to upload to Flickr, I won't bother giving you the play by play. Because is there anything more boring than sitting through someone's excited synopsis of their vacation? A vacation in CINCINNATI? Maybe golf, I don't know. Golf is really boring.
No, here at mighty maggie we are on to Bigger and Better things, those being the fact that I am having houseguests from Thursday to Sunday and today is WEDNESDAY and there are bits and pieces of Vacation Items all over every horizontal surface in my house AND I can't clean it up because tonight I am going to my sister's graduation. And this is not like my graduation, in which I accepted my completely useless Bachelor of Arts in English Degree with a Highly UnLucrative Emphasis in Creative Writing (the university gods were doubled over with laughter). This is a Here, Let Us Give You A Piece Of Paper That Declares You Are Qualified For an Honest To God Actual Profession. That profession being Elementary School Teacher. Like my dad says, there is a poverty gene in my family.
My sister is a smartie, because unlike her cocky everything-should-fall-into-my-lap older sister, she took her Political Science degree and went straight to the teaching certificate program. But she's not THAT smart, because 1) she has dealt with crazypsycho boy all year, the bane of her existence 2) Washington State treats public school teachers like the school lunch leftovers and 3) we are from a FAMILY of public school teachers and SHE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER.
However, I can see how it would have been hard to know better. My parents have been elementary school teachers their entire lives. I heard something about working in offices in college, a bread factory, food service, but I don't believe them because I AM SERIOUS. My parents were pretty much born hollering at fourth graders and singing songs about President's Day and knowing how to tell if an excuse note is forged. My mother, in particular, has had many a difficult coworker, bratty student and unsupportive principal, but I have never EVER heard her say she would rather be doing something else. My dad sends us emails about the "twerps" in his class, how irritated he is that he has not yet learned his lesson and is doing another end-of-school musical, how relieved he will be once this round of "twits" graduates to the sixth grade, but it's lies, all lies. I honestly believe that they were made to work with kids (and then had five of their own because, according to my father, they had to have someone to take care of them in their old age.)
Ever since it occurred to me that I would have to find something to do with myself and earn my own living, I've been envious of my parents. They have always known what they wanted to be.
I'm envious of my sister too. Not only does she know what she wants to be, she's really good at it. All year I've been getting distraught phone calls about What Happened At School That Day, but they end with This Is What I Want To Do With Them Tomorrow! Her kids are poor and disadvantaged and mouthy and difficult and threatening, their parents are addicts and disinterested. Her mentor teacher has no concept of discipline and my five-foot sister is dealing with uncontrollable five-foot-three fourth graders and their social workers. "They ruin everything!" she complains. "We can't do anything FUN because they're always BAD!" I tell her that soon she'll have her own classroom and she'll be in control and she'll kick the bad ones out, no excuses.
About a year and a half ago, when I was despairing that I would EVER find anything I wanted to do, I considered teaching. No way was I going to teach little kids, I was going to be just like my high school English teacher and impart my scads of wisdom to punk 11th graders. I would daydream about how they'd leave my classroom with a newfound love of the apostrophe, able to hold an intelligent conversation about existentialism, with a developing appreciation for twentieth century poets, Shakespeare, and Strunk & White. Obviously I had lost my mind.
I've got a bunch of teacher friends and half of them want to quit. You spend most of your time trying to keep them AWAKE. You have to deal with parents, principals, standards, and annoying people who have never been teachers trying to tell you how to do your job. I was fairly certain that if some big 11th grade jock tried to intimidate me, instead of telling him to take a hike to the principal's office, I would probably start crying and ask if I could use his phone to call my dad. Sometime after I'd taken the entrance exam, I realized I just didn't like kids enough to make up for all of that.
I think my sister does. She likes kids. REALLY likes them. She has a million ideas for what to do with them and how to teach them. This excites my mom to no end- last summer they were always trying out a science experiment or math project for Becca to write up for class. She doesn't sentimentalize them. She expects them to act their age and behave. She doesn't put up with brats. And when a brat leaves his brattiness behind for a day, she celebrates him. She is going to be an awesome teacher. You are totally going to want your kids in her class. Me too. (And you have no idea how many times my family has had to have the "What do I call you when I'm in school" conversation.)
The Powers That Be recommended closing eleven schools in Seattle next year. It has to do with money, of course, but also the fact that there are more dogs than children in this city. Becca will probably end up teaching in Podunk, Washington, hours away from the sister who supplies her with television and Chinese cakes. Weep. This state requires a teaching certificate which means an extra year of tuition for my sister, who went to a four-year university that didn't offer an Education major. You earn a little more money if you get a master's degree, but some of us have enough debt with a bachelor's degree, thank you. You can't just apply for a job, you have to deposit your information into the district system and pray to every god you know that someone notices your application. You have to endure group interviews, phone interviews, stupid questions from administrators. You're strung along until oh, August, when they figure out if they have a place for you or not. And if you get a job, you're not guaranteed to have it next year. The whole school system stinks. The more I think about it, the angrier I get. Everyone complains about the schools- how are they supposed to get better when the teachers are treated like that? I make more than a first-year teacher and I do a hell of lot less work. No one in their right minds should become a teacher!
Unless they love kids. Unless they love teaching them how to do new things. Unless they love watching some twerp light up when he figures out a math problem by himself, when he can read a sentence, when he says his memorized lines in the school play. Unless he thinks it'd be really cool, if years and years from now, when his five kids are sitting impatiently in the van and he's filling up the tank, some twenty-something marches over to him and says, "Hey! Are you Mr. So and So? You were my sixth grade teacher!"
So, in honor of my sister and my parents and my dozens of teacher relatives, I shall fondly remember Mrs. Haskey, the woman who taught me my multiplication tables; Mrs. Bryant, who gave me a starring role in the play; Mrs. O'Neill, who was my Confirmation sponsor in addition to making me read poetry, even if I thought it was stupid; Mrs. Hillestad, who told me I really could be a writer; and Mr. Quinn, who never let this cocky know-it-all rest on her laurels and forced to me to work harder than anyone had ever required. Mr. Quinn, especially, was biding his time until he could retire with his Italian wife in his Italian villa and never have to deal with another dumb American teenager again, but under the many-layered cantankerous exterior was, I SWEAR, someone whose heart swelled, even just a tiny bit, when a thick-headed senior found something to say about The Heart of Darkness.
Happy graduation to my sister, future wearer of wooden necklaces and jumpers, future singer of all those songs our mother drilled into us, future writer of D'Nealian, future giver of bathroom breaks, future receiver of heaps of horrid holiday gifts, all given with love to their best teacher ever.