Before I taught middle school, I remember thinking about what my typical teacher mornings might look like.
I’d arrive at work ten minutes early, sporting my cute monogrammed tumbler and wielding a stylish tote bag. I would write the day’s agenda on the board, copying carefully from the lesson plans I’d made in advance. I would also only have to write one agenda because I would only be teaching one prep, yay! Also writing on the board would be fun! Handwriting!
After the bell, my students would walk in the door, greeting me cheerfully. They would all turn in their homework. Or maybe one student would have forgotten hers, and I would say, “Oh, I’m sorry you forgot it. You know what? Just turn it in when you can.”
During class, students would raise their hands enthusiastically. They would follow tasks immediately after I asked or assigned them. And they would make me laugh with their hilarious-yet-still-on-task quips about literature or grammar.
I would spend my conference period organizing papers with cute flamingo paper clips. Next, I would calmly make calls to happy parents. (Or maybe a slightly upset parent that I would win over in a matter of minutes.) Then I would work on lesson plans six weeks in advance in my adorable teacher organizer. The morning would end with lunch: a Bento box filled with foods like tomato salad, a hard-boiled egg, cubed steak, and asparagus spears. Eating would, of course, only take 20 out of the 30 minutes of my lunch period. So I’d pull out my Flair pens and get ahead on my grading. Grading would be fun, obviously, because Flair pens!
Here’s what my teacher mornings are actually like.
I arrive at work very early, at an hour when most of the city is still asleep, because if I don’t, my eighth graders will forget how to read and the world will slide into a river of chaos.
(Teaching has given me massive anxiety, but that’s a post for another time.)
I’m wearing—what am I wearing? I don’t even remember getting dressed this morning. Oh. Black pants that used to be nice before they began to cut into my stomach fat, a striped shirt that has begun to pill from 3,000 washings, and flats that, hey, are actually kind of cute. Except that one is black and one is navy, I’ve now realized. Neat.
I’ve lost my cute monogrammed tumbler.
But it’s okay because I’ve acquired 15 other travel tumblers, 14 of which are in the backseat of my car. I do, however, still have my tote bag, which is now tattered and dirty from being thrown in and out of cars, stuck under seats of buses on field trips, and thrown onto bar floors minutes before I burst into tears.
After crashing into my desk and sloshing half my coffee down my gullet, I log in to my computer. I stare at a blank screen for ten minutes asking myself, “Where am I? What is it that I do here in this place?”
When I remember, I spend the next hour and a half furiously preparing notes, designing activities, and assembling reading assignments for my classes for the week. I occasionally refer to my notes from this time last year when I did this unit, but I’m also actively revamping and improving it by building in or rewriting entire sections.
I teach four different preps, and between two and three of these preps meet during the same class period.
It’s like trying to make thirty corks stay underwater at the same time but also get the corks to teach themselves how to analyze poetry or write a research paper … while I’m working with another group.
When Laura comes in for morning tutorials to ask if she missed anything last week while on vacation with her family, I laugh to keep from crying and tell her I’ll work on putting it together. I add “teach last week to Laura” to the “To-Do” Post-It note on my desk, which is really a train of about five Post-Its.
“Oh, Laura?” I say, handing her my “planner,” a legal pad I’ve been scrawling on. “Would you mind writing my agendas on the board for me? Thanks. Let me know if you can’t interpret my hieroglyphs.”
I glance at my computer screen.
It’s 7:50 am, and I have twenty unread emails in my inbox. They’re all from this morning.
When the bell for first period rings, about half of my students walk in normally, and the other half either run, drag themselves, or dance in the door like guests on Ellen. Andre forgot his homework, so I tell him, “Oh, bummer. Luckily homework is only 10 percent of your grade, right? This, too, shall pass, dear pupil.” I pull up the attendance roster just as another student approaches me at my desk with a ghost-white face and says, “I’m for sure going to throw up.” I send her to the nurse with my trash can.
During class, I find myself having to say things like, “Next person to sing ‘Let it Go’ has to wear a dunce cap,” and, “Well, give me an example of a negligent babysitter,” and, “Maybe let’s not make the assertion that all millennials value avocados over human lives,” and, “But why do you have Elmer’s glue spread on your upper lip?” and, “OK, let me be more specific: next person to sing OR HUM ‘Let it Go’ has to wear a dunce cap.”
“Do you even have a dunce cap?” Jose says.
“I will make one,” I say.
Sara asks, “What’s a dunce cap?”
When the bell rings, I lock my door and sprint to the bathroom.
I see that my hair makes me look insane, so when I get back to my class I pin it back with a binder clip. Because that’s less crazy.
During my conference period, I see that the most recent email in my inbox is from a parent, with the subject line Did you get my email from this morning?, which makes me throw my head back and cackle. I open a reply and type LOL, what morning?, but then I delete that and begin crafting a Pulitzer-worthy, professional response. Halfway through that, I get a call that I need to cover someone else’s class this period—like, right now—because there are not enough subs. I grab my “lunch”—a Diet Coke and a box of Cheez-Its—and make my way down the hall. On the way there, I run into the registrar.
“You forgot to take attendance,” she says in passing. “Also the air conditioner is broken, just FYI.”
In the next class, once I get them reasonably settled and as close to on-task as possible, I take out my Cheez-Its and a stack of papers I need to grade.
Between handfuls of tangy crackers and wiping sweat from my hairline in the increasingly stuffy room, I make notes with my one remaining Flair pen, lime green. In my notes are smilies but also lots of question marks and a grease stain that I circle and label “Sorry—Cheez-Its were here.”
When I get back to my room, I see that, instead of using my OTHER trash can, students have kindly piled their used Kleenexes, snack wrappers, and pencil shavings in a small heap in the space where the trash can—the one my student took to the nurse during first period—used to be.
I know. It’s insane. It’s nothing like I pictured eight years ago, before I started.
But you want to know something even more insane?
I love it anyway.