“And I Teach, Too.”

Monday morning I scanned my email’s inbox– still no word from the local librarian about the books-in-a-box sets I requested. Damn.  My school book club was going on two weeks with NO BOOK.  For my avid readers, this was like purgatory.  I glanced at the clock and figured I had ten minutes to run down to our school library and mine the back room for a selection.  They wanted a book that also had a movie adaptation.  The shelves proved lucrative: The Importance of Being EarnestA Raisin in the SunOctober Sky, The Diary of Anne Frank.  There were also several copies of Night, so I grabbed one of those, too.  There are plenty of holocaust films to pair with it.  I ran back to class just as the bell rang… just in time to teach.

******

“Ugh.  I hate that book,” said Oz as I pitched A Raisin in the Sun.  I plastered a smile on my face as I tried to make sympathetic noises.  Oz is my most negative book club member and seems to take delight in pointing out the worst in everything, even if it doesn’t exist.  Last year she informed us that she didn’t like any of us “not to be rude.” I calmed my nerves with happy thoughts of her impending graduation this year.

Sweet, mild-mannered Kate spoke up, “Um, Ms. L, I don’t like raisins.”  Sigh.

“This isn’t about raisins.  The title’s from Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” in which he questions what happens to dreams when they are constantly deferred– put aside.  The line from the poem is ‘or do they (dreams) shrivel like raisins in the sun’?  There are no raisins.”

Kate seemed almost interested in the book, but stopped again, “Ms. L, you won’t put raisins in any cookies will you?”  I assured her that, no, I will not put any raisins in any cookies, cookies, cupcakes, or bread that I might bring for discussion.

Secretly I hoped they would choose The Importance of Being Earnest, a nice pleasant, funny read.  They voted for Night.

*******

I checked my mail-box for the red Netflix envelope.  I sent the past movie back last week, and should have received the new one by Saturday.  Book Club and Adventure Club needed The Ring for our Tuesday Movie Night fundraiser.  Obviously, the mailman would have put it in my box today.  Shifting through the political fliers, ads, and bills, I found nothing.

I got back in my car and drove to Best Buy.

******

Tuesday. “Don’t you get discouraged?” Liz asked.  It was after our Academic Decathlon meeting, and Liz, the president of the club, was underwhelmed by our team.  Last year’s team was predominately made up of the class of 2012– a group of motivated, driven, extremely intelligent superstars who went on their way to Stanford, Berkeley, UC Davis, UOP, UCLA, and other UCs and state colleges.  The class of 2013 is, well, playing Jan to last year’s Marcia.  Liz wanted to know if teaching such students (she missed being in the class of 2012 by being born a few days late) made me frustrated.

“Yes and no.  It’s frustrating because I can’t teach at the level I want to teach, nor can I teach one of the books I want to teach.  However, I’ve been teaching the class of 2013 for a long time now– I had them as sophomores.  I had them as juniors.  I knew what was coming.  They’re like a storm, and I’m waiting it out.”

She sighed, “I want the club to do well, but I don’t think I can change them.”

“You can’t change them,” I replied.  Liz, a perfectionist, holds the same high standards that she has for herself for everyone else.  Compared to her, everyone including our best and brightest, come up short.  As the leader, she found the other members not excelling at the pace she expected.  As the advisor, I see students who come in and spend two hours every week practicing math or economics and practicing their speeches; I was impressed.  “You can only get to know them and find their strengths.  Work with what they have.  Don’t give up on the team.”

******

An hour and a half later as I attempted to get some grading done, Hal and Puty came in early to help me set up for movie night.  They shot the breeze by discussing their love of Pride and Prejudice, and Puty complained about not being in my class, for she loves Mr. Darcy, too.  Their conversation turned to Shakespeare as Hal reminisced about reading Othello.  Puty lamented at having to read Hamlet.

Hal glared at me, “Ms. L, why didn’t we read Hamlet?  It looks so interesting.  I wanted to read Hamlet!”

“I hate Hamlet,” I replied, pursing my lips.  Hal let out a shocked gasp and demanded to know why.

“Because he can’t make up his mind.  The ghost of his dead father tells him twice to kill his uncle, the man who murdered him, and Hamlet can’t decide if he should do it.  Geez, he can’t even decided if he wants to kill himself, ‘To be or not to be?!'”.  I followed this up with a five minute rendition of all the rotten things in Denmark, and ended it with, “And what happens at the end?!”  Both of them looked at me, “Everyone dies?”

“Yes!” I exclaim, “Everyone dies!  Because he can’t make up his mind!”

I looked over at Puty to get her approval, “Did I get it right?”

She shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know. We’re starting it in a couple of weeks.”

Sigh.

“But what about the witches?  What part has the witches?,” Hal questioned.

“Witches?  Are you talking about Macbeth?”

“Oh!  It’s Macbeth!  That’s what I want to read!  Why didn’t we read that, Ms. L?”

******

An hour later, Tiny, the president of book club, watched the students lining up outside the theatre for what was to be the book and adventure clubs first really successful fundraiser.  The members had sold many pre-sale tickets, and now there were more lining up to watch The Ring.  She gasped, “Look at all of this!  We did it! We made it happen!  I’m so proud!”

She had a lot to be proud of.  The book club members are all quiet and shy wall-flowers.  Everything that they have done has been on a small scale.  This– using the school’s theatre, selling concessions, showing a horror flick– was all very big.  For them, it was momentous.

******

Nguyen, one of my two Adventure Club members, informed me that they probably wouldn’t be able to raise enough money to go on the trip to Ireland, Scotland, and England next year.  They wouldn’t be able to go.

“Well, that doesn’t mean that we still can’t have an adventure.  We’ve raised money.  We’ll raise more.  We’ll have a local adventure.  How about that?” I offered.

His face brightened, “I’ve never been to Washington, D.C.!”

“D.C. is fun, but I meant local, like in the state.” I refrained from saying “on this side of the Sierras.”

I could see his brain working for closer destinations.

“Nguyen, there is one stipulation.  No tourist traps.  This is an adventure.”

******

The new teacher towered over me.  Nguyen had recruited him to chaperone movie night, and it was my first time meeting him.

He looked around the crowded theater, “This is really great!  So how are you connected to the clubs?  What do you do?”

“I’m the book club and Adventure club advisor.  And I coach Academic Decathlon.  I’m also an advisor for HOSA.”

He stared at me, flabbergasted, “That’s like, what, four clubs?”

I nodded, “And I teach, too.”

******

Wednesday.  I opened the mailbox.  There it was: the red Netflix envelope.  The Ring.

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13 thoughts on ““And I Teach, Too.”

    1. Thank you. There are many frustrating things about teaching– oftentimes the students are the least of our worries. For example, Prop 30. How many other professions have their jobs or pay scale up for a vote? It’s a weird world we live in. I’m not sure what some people expect from teachers. I appreciate your support and encouragement.

  1. I love hearing the stories of teachers:-) My former high school classmate teaches history and I’m always amused at the questions the kids ask or the things they express. Your post could very well be…a novel. LOL As you can see, I’m in Nanowrimo mode. BTW, did you ever get to read that book I suggested? If you did, what did you think?

    1. I have often thought the best reality TV show would be called “School”. There’s tons of source material there! I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet. : (

  2. You must be the coolest teacher on campus. I have the feeling a lot of kids wish they were in your class. I love that you work so hard for them, and they appreciate it. If I’d been in your class, you might’ve gotten me to join a couple of clubs.

  3. Loved reading this Amy 🙂 it’s TRUE that every person on the team is unique and it takes patience and energy to lead them or in your case be an advisor… Enjoyed d Macbeth and raisins 😉 U are a very lovable teacher 🙂

  4. Wow! Having served as the National Honor Society advisor, skate club advisor, Friends of Rachel advisor I tip my hat off to one who wears many hats. I don’t advise clubs anymore. Student apathy wore on me after awhile, plus I wanted to focus on my lesson plans more than my club agendas. Oh, my AP is starting Hamlet this week. Love Hamlet loathe Macbeth. That guy was totally owned by alpha females. He’s no tragic hero, he’s just tragic.

    1. I choose Othello because it is so similar to my students’ lives- racial tension, rumors, haters, etc. fortunately, we don’t have apathy, but it does take up a lot of time! The skate club must have been fun.

      1. I felt like a denmother to the thirty or so wheeled “bad boys” of the school. They actually set aside their individualism enough to raise about $200 towards the city skate park. Once the park was built the club was abandonded. What an experience! The vice principal did a double-take when he walked in one of our meetings in the library after school. Probably thought I was holding after-school detention. Othello is a great play–if I have time after Hamlet I will give it a run through.

  5. This was such an amusing post amy. You made me smile all the way!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
    Your students are cute, naughty, cheeky….what not! Full-on entertainment. It must be an adventure for you each day.
    I loved reading “The importance of being Earnest”. I remember we enacted the whole thing and had lots of fun. Sigh! i miss school.

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