Monday, April 26, 2010

The Worst Class in School

I clambered onto the Boston-to-New York bus last Tuesday with a scant three minutes to spare, sweating and with multiple bags hanging off my limbs. As I was in the process of asking a passenger to move her bags out of the seat next to her so I could sit there, I saw a hand wave and a voice call my name from the back of the bus. It was Abbi, a 3rd grade teacher at the Cambridge school I work at. I greeted her warmly and settled in next to her.

The first day I worked in Abbi's classroom her students announced to me that they were the worst class in the school. I politely responded, “Oh really?”, but inside I was scoffing and thinking, “Ha! You think THIS is bad? You don't know what bad is.” Still, the class does have a reputation in the school; usually when it is mentioned people respond, “Oh, they're a challenging group, that class.” And there are some challenging behaviors, just not compared to what I dealt with last year. On the other hand, they also happen to be a very likable, engaging bunch. (On my first day back after vacation, it was reported to me that a darling, extremely ADHD little boy who never responds when I say hi to him because he can't stop moving long enough to say hi back had told a classmate that I am “very nice and very pretty.” I was awfully flattered.)

Abbi appreciates their positive qualities, but still, she was ready for spring break. She told me that she feels like she works all the time, and when not working she feels guilty for not working. It brought back a flood of memories for me: counting down how many days were left of school, feeling like I couldn't wait for spring break to arrive but as soon as it did dreading its end, working until 10 pm each evening and then dreaming about my students after I went to bed.

This year, by contrast, spring break arrived like an unexpected strawberry on top of a slice of chocolate cake: delicious and fun, but by no means necessary. I didn't even think much about it before it arrived. So while I commiserated with Abbi, I felt relieved and glad to not be in her shoes. (I also noted mentally that she has five less kids than I had last year, less difficult behaviors, an hour less of school per day, and one more prep than I did, so I didn't feel TOO bad for her.) I am getting to know the kids better at both my jobs, and the sheer joy I get from spending time with them underscores for me that I am in the right profession. However, the feeling of being burned out that my sister and many other talented teachers I know who have taught for a few years are experiencing is a red flag I feel I should heed. It goes without saying that I don't ever want to have another year like last year, but more than that, I hope to find a job that allows for a healthy work-life balance (at least after a year or two). From my observations so far, the place to look for that job might just be Cambridge, the land of utopian public schools with abundant resources and support.

When I saw my Wise Woman later in the week, she was thrilled to hear my job news. I've known her now for 4 ½ years, and it feels like she's become a friend, albeit one who I have to pay $95 an hour to talk to. (Luckily my other friends are less pricey.) At this point, visits with her have become a bit of an ego trip for me: when she's not listening to me, she spends much of the time talking about how impressed she is with me, and telling me what a strong, healthy person I am. She did, however, mention one little nugget that she had never shared with me before, an observation about La Moustache, who she met last September. “You know who he reminds me of?” she asked. “Someone pretending to be Jean-Paul Belmondo.”

OUCH. I've certainly flung a number of insults Moustache's way over the past few months, but I think she may have topped me with that one.

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