[School bell sounds. Sounds of students entering the hallway and talking, eventually fading out.]
The school bell. One of the most delightful sounds in all the world, probably one of the few things students and teachers can agree on. For students, it marks the end of science notes, math equations and poetry analysis. For teachers, it releases us from the last 7 hours of lessons going awry, students constantly asking “can I use the bathroom?” in the middle of your instruction, and sitting needlessly in front of the bathroom, making sure nothing is amiss except for the sink that doesn’t stop dripping.
But the most important part of that wonderfully piercing sound is that you can go home. That is unless you are in your first year teaching trying to survive.
Each month on a Wednesday, my new-bee fellow teachers and I would shuffle our way into the library to sit and have our new teacher course. Each district is required to have this type of introduction as it fulfills part of a requirement for licensure. We were never quite sure what we had coming at us, so we would sit patiently and wait for the guest speakers to arrive.
[Sounds of people talking and slowly fades out.]
We had a slew of different “professionals” come in and discuss the teaching gig with us. One man told us that we all became teachers to make money, and we only worked 7-3 with summers off, so we had no reason to complain. Another man said that if we failed to adhere to a special education student’s IEP, we would be sued and lose all of the money the other guy said we made. Although the thought of losing all of this magical money I made in a lawsuit scared me, nothing brought me more nightmares than that of our regular speaker, Cheryl [bleep], otherwise known as CBJ.
[Sounds of old-time ragtime starts to play]
A member of Teachers 21, a group of retired teachers who run professional development with the motto “Teachers as leaders, leaders as learners,” CBJ was a true believer. She believed that all problems in the classroom could be solved with great instruction and engaging lessons. Encouraging us to take hold of the Golden Minutes, the first 5 minutes of class, and Silver Minutes, the last 5 minutes of our class, by giving our students a “Do Now” and “Ticket to Leave,” CBJ would whirl around the library like a tornado of sunshine with poster board and markers. No matter what the activity, no matter what we were trying to learn, we had to draw and discuss and to draw and discuss and then draw some more. We had name-tents with our names printed and illustrated to represent who we were. We talked about “dipsticking” and “fist-fives,” terms I thought would cause one to be kicked out of class, not used in one. At one point, we had to stand in a circle and the 30 teachers had to explain how teaching was like a grapefruit. I think I mentioned something about it being pulpy.
In hindsight, I should have mentioned how it is bitter like my feelings were towards the insanity I had to endure all these months. Instead of learning useful tools that would help in aiding our survival this first year, we wasted what little time we had doing these inane activities. And as if dipsticking, name-tents, and grapefruits weren’t enough, it all culminated in a video about a young boy named Teddy and his elementary school teacher.
[Slow piano music begins]
Teddy was a disruptive student who the teacher would take pleasure in marking his papers up with the anxiety-inducing red pen. After she reviewed Teddy’s past record, she saw that he had struggled since his mother died and was acting out. Ashamed, the teacher had a new view of Teddy. That Christmas, Teddy gave her a bracelet and a bottle of perfume, both of which belonged to his dead mother. The teacher focused more on Teddy, getting him back on track. Teddy and the teacher remained in contact, writing to each other throughout his middle, high school and college years. Many many years later, after Teddy now had an M.D, he wrote to the teacher. He told her he was getting married, and asked if she would walk down the aisle in his mother’s place because she was always the best person in his life. When she accompanied him at the wedding, she wore the bracelet and perfume given to her years beforehand.
[Music continues to play]
CBJ called him an inspiration.
[Music fades out]
We called him “Smelly Teddy.”
Being a teacher is one of the hardest jobs in the world. You are constantly being told that what you do matters, but all you’re trying to do is survive. Survive being pulled in multiple different directions. Survive the constant scrutiny of the people around you. Survive all the bullshit that gets in the way of doing the one job that truly does matter – teaching those kids in front of you.
[Sounds of students begin]
I’ve been surviving now for close to a decade and have learned that the only way you do that is to keep Smelly Teddy in your mind. To keep those relationships you forged in the insanity of new teacher training and the countless other useless professional trainings you’ve sat through. Hold on to those moments and you’ll through until the next bell rings.