So…I started teaching professionally (officially) in 1985. I was interviewed by Hector Madrid, the principal of Deming High at the time, and his assistant principal and activities director. They were all three at a convention in Albuquerque, and I drove up there from Socorro for the interview. I have not been as nervous since.
They offered me a teaching job in English, then two weeks before the school year started they called me up and said they were moving me to Math. I remember the night before my first day. I lay in bed thinking, “I can’t teach Math. I don’t know enough Math to teach Math.” The next day I gave my first lesson, and I was immediately reassured. I didn’t know much, but those kids…they knew N-O-T-H-I-N-G! I couldn’t help but teach them. They seemed to be WITHOUT any knowledge. It was great, teaching Math that first year. I taught Algebra. I can remember introducing certain concepts, and the students looked at me with blank expressions. I would say, “Okay, I realize it doesn’t make sense right now, but just follow the steps, and it will eventually make sense.” And, it did. It’s a funny thing. In early Math courses you can almost see the little idea “light bulb” turn on over a student’s head when she gets it. It’s so satisfying for a teacher, that little, “ooohh, I get it.”
English doesn’t offer that little light bulb in the same way, not very often. I remember once I read a story to one of my sophomore classes at Goddard. It was a story with a surprise ending, and when I looked up at the end, one of the boys in the room lifted his head and his eyes were round and bright and full of knowing. It was terrific. It kept me going for the rest of that year, that one expression of utterly transfixed joy.
It’s been over thirty years now. I’m thinking of taking the big “R.” I’m not sixty yet, and I know there are people who think I’m considering this too early. Maybe I am. Still, it’s been a time since I’ve had one of those “WHOA” moments in class. The closest has been some of the photography work we have done in yearbook. Students love to discover how they can put a hat on a head or a man’s head on a woman’s body. Ah, the simple joys.
I used to try all sorts of wacky things to make my classes more interesting or challenging. I would put all my imagination into some list of songs to try and teach poetry. Often the students would scoff at my attempts. It would break my heart. I would cry with frustration after class. Then, I stopped needing them to like my class, to like me, and things got simpler. I began to see them learn and improve, and even the ones I didn’t think had it in them would still manage to do something pretty well. It hasn’t been a bad way to spend my life. I love attention, and in class I naturally get it. I love conversation and surprise, and my job consists of having conversations with the most honest, surprising, silly, sly people in the world. I can only think of a couple of jobs that would be better, and I know of none I could do better. I was made of bossy, noisy, feisty material from the start. I was cut in the shape of a teacher from age six. When I was born I’ll bet the doctor thought, “Nerd alert.”
So…if I retire, will I die soon after? That’s the big question. This is what I like to consider when I think of retiring. I like to think of the breeze blowing through the pines outside my window. I like to think of the sky.