“Wow, you’re brave.”
That’s the most common reaction I used to hear when I told strangers that I taught high school.
I knew the images they were reacting to: sensationalized news bits about school shootings or violently defiant juvies. Welcome Back Kotter sweathogs. Or maybe just the mouthiness or sullenness or SOMETHING-ness of their own kids at home.
“I could never deal with that.”
My standard response, laughing: “Oh, the kids are fine. It’s the parents that you should be scared of.”
It has been three years and ten months since I left the other Wing’s World, my classroom in Tacoma (Room 1603), and I. Miss. Kids.
Has rosy nostalgia clouded up my memory, blotting out all the frustrations with ____, who was obviously brilliant but only ever turned in one piece of writing (about ComiCon, which his mom pulled him out of school for a week to attend)? Or ____, the cheerleader who helped me understand the finer points of what it means to be a Mean Girl? (The secret is in the curl of the lips when saying apparently sweet things.) Or ___, who was such an uncontrollable chatterbox I made him sit at MY desk just to get him far enough away from any potential gossip-mate? (He tried texting.)
(Oh, and don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten their names. I not only remember those, I remember where they sat in my room, and what their handwriting looked like.)
So…is nostalgia distorting my memories of my old career? Of course! Isn’t that nostalgia’s job? Who would do anything hard if the positive memories afterward didn’t outweigh the pain? (Tempted to use the childbirth parallel here…)
I’m riding that wave of nostalgia for real this week, because I GET TO WORK WITH TEENS AGAIN! Well, “work” is an overstatement. And only for a few days.
Next week is the official Launch Party for my YA novel, The Flying Burgowski. And since it’s a book about teenagers, I figured, why not spice up the Author Reading with…teenagers? So I invited four of Lopez Island’s finest young actors (whose work I’ve seen in our Community Shakespeare performances–but that’s another post) to join me in a dramatic reading. We got together twice last week for a read-through. I’m still a little giddy. Call it a contact high from all that open-endedness that teens emanate.
It’s not “energy.” Most normal teenagers, before noon, have less energy than your average banana slug. What draws me to that age group is their sense of possibility. They are walking intersections–the kind with a gazillion roads crossing over each other, some with turns so sharp they appear to be going the opposite way from what the sign indicates. Sullenness might be quiet superiority. Cheeriness might be fear. Inappropriateness might be hope. (Of course it could also just be inappropriateness. Teens are teens!)
(orig. image courtesy Shutterstock.com)
You may, at this point, be wanting to ask the obvious question: Gretchen, if you like teens so much, and there’s a high school on your island, why don’t you go teach there? Or at least sub? Or tutor?
It’s a damn good question, although one my husband hates to hear. (He once famously told me, “I’d be more excited to see you without essays than without clothes!”)
My answer is: When we moved here, I promised myself writing time, which does NOT fit with a full-time teaching job. (Believe me, I tried it.) As for subbing or tutoring: I know myself too well. I am #1, really bad at being peripheral–I like to be in the middle of things, if not running them. And #2, I’m horribly susceptible to being needed. So if any kid came to me saying, “I HATE history–Mr. So-and-so is BORING! Why don’t YOU be our teacher?” Ohhh…I’d be toast.
So I’ll make do with four kids reading aloud the various parts from Chapter Five of my novel. But inside, I’ll be soaking up those possibilities.
What do you think of my teenager metaphor? Do you have one of your own? (I mean metaphors, not teens–but you can share about that too.)