Wednesday, June 22, 2005

In Which the Space-Time Continuum is Nearly Annihilated

Tuesday morning, I miraculously found my way to the school at which I am doing my second seven-week session. This school, according to the ever-accurate Mapquest, is approximately 34 minutes from my house. I know how to get to the town in which the school is located, but I wasn't sure exactly where the school was. Being ever-cautious, I allowed myself an hour, giving my directionally-challenged self plenty of room to get lost. Well, get lost I did. I'm glad that I gave myself that hour, because I pulled into the parking lot of the school at exactly 9:30am, the time I was scheduled to meet with her.

After winding my way through the labyrinth of hallways (this town has one elementary school, and, thusly, eight sections of second grade, the grade I'll be student teaching), I finally made my way to the office. The, uh, wrong office. The, uh, grades 3-5 office. I promptly got lost on my way to the K-2 office, and somehow stumbled upon it after about three minutes of aimless wandering. There, they gave me easy-to-follow directions to the classroom, which, miraculously, I found without incident. On my way out, I should've asked them for a fucking map.

Anyway. I was expecting the room to be empty, and the teacher to be sitting in there while her kids were at special or something, which is how the other teacher handled it. But no. I walked in on a class bustling with children bundling up a year's worth of seasonally-dressed paper dolls with string, "like a present," she instructed them. "If you need help, Ms. Frazzled or I will help you."

Oh. Well. Actually, Ms. Frazzled has the fine motor skills of a four year-old and the spacial relations concepts of a kindergartner, so she'll probably just watch and pronounce everything you do a "Great job!" in hopes of avoiding having to figure out what the hell you're doing. Luckily, these kids turned out to be pretty well-trained, and simply repeating the directions I heard the teacher give - "Now tie it like a shoelace" - was enough to prompt them and not make me look like a totally inept schmuck.

Way to make an impression, right? That was my introduction to this woman's room.

But that wasn't the only thing that threw me off. Ohhhh, no. The first thing that I noticed was that this woman - who bears the same (real) last name as Ms. Sneakers - resembles Ms. Sneakers in a rather striking manner. Same blonde hair in a messy ponytail; same facial bone structure and body type... and they were even dressed alike. Ms Sneakers-Clone (which is what this woman shall be henceforth known as, or Ms. S-C for short) was clad in pale blue capris and a white t-shirt that was very similar to that belonging to Ms. Sneakers... but, alas, no pink sneakers. Instead, she wore pretty white sandals. However, the overall effect was quite unnerving. I briefly wondered which episode of The Twilight Zone I'd become party to.

Despite this brief upset in the space-time continuum, I think that things with Ms. S-C are going to work out just fine. She's extremely friendly and personable, and she made me feel comfortable right away, just like she'd done on the phone. Her manner with the kids is great. Obviously she's had the whole year to fine-tune her relationship with them, but she was able to sit with me and talk for about half an hour and they carried on just as they were supposed to. And she has those highly-developed observation skills common to all good teachers; she'd pause every few minutes to address something, and get right back on track with me. It was interesting to see.

My first in-person impressions of both of these women are good. While I obviously don't know anything of any real substance yet, I have positive feelings towards both of them so far. At the very least, I'm not cringing in horror yet. That'll start as the end of August approaches. For now, I'll just enjoy the fact that I'm pre-horror.

Monday, June 20, 2005

In Which our Protagonist References A Hit Single by Journey

The title of this entry really ought to read, "In Which our Protagonist Falls to Her Knees in Self-Flagellation and Gratitude," but I can't resist using the Journey reference, and to include both would make the title go onto the next line. I'm a smidge too neurotic for that.

When I walked into my meeting with the first of my two cooperating teachers this afternoon, I was not in good spirits. Aside from being highly anxious due to the less-than-stellar phone "conversation" I had with her last week, it was approaching 80 degrees, and I was in a fucking blazer. A fucking lined blazer. And a pair of strappy, irritating sandals that were slicing fine red lines into my sweaty feet with every step. Oh, Ms. Frazzled; you and your fashion faux pas, I thought. If she doesn't hate you for calling her last week, she's certainly going to think you a little odd in this get-up. And what's with the purse? Totally doesn't match. And still, I pressed on.

And when I saw her sitting at her desk in her spacious, bright classroom, immediately I heard bars from "Don't Stop Believing" by - yes, you guessed it; look at how smart you are! - Journey begin playing in my head. Don't ask me why, but for some reason, that song is my "love at first sight" anthem. I have no idea from where this association arises; I only know that it exists, and that it is generally a superb sign. Like a vision, there she was, with a messy blonde ponytail, cute little scholarly glasses, a white t-shirt, khaki capris, and - here's where it gets good - white socks and pink sneakers. She was wearing pink sneakers. Her sneakers matched my shirt. She had me at the pink sneakers.

When she smiled and began using phrases I recognized, like "classroom community building," "guided reading groups," "writing workshop," and "DEAR time," all of my fear melted into a puddle and joined the sweat at my uncomfortable, but sexily-sandaled, feet. Ha.

Dear readers, I could see myself very easily developing a crush on Ms. Sneakers, as she will be known from here on. I shan't permit myself this indulgence, however, for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the fact that she's close to forty and married. However, I am comforted by this. She is not, indeed, anything resembling the Hitler of elementary school teachers, and I think that she might turn out to be okay, after all. The veracity of this statement does remain to be seen, but so far, I shall say, so good.

Tomorrow, I meet in person with the cooperating teacher for my second seven-week session. She and I have spoken twice on the phone, and I already possess nothing but good feelings for her. I'm actually looking forward to seeing her. That is, of couse, assuming I can find the school.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Oh, Goddess, Deliver Me from Impending Pants-Shitting Terror

My single greatest fear about student teaching is not that I will have a group of thirty heedless, godless pagans whose pencil-stabbings I have to dodge on a regular basis. It is not that I will stand in front of them and be unable to do anything but stutter and say things like, "Guys, please, could you settle down?" and "Come onnnnn!" It's not even, really, that I will be a terrible teacher and just simply not cut out for it, although that's certainly high up there on the terror meter. (Hm, I think I should develop my own colour-coding system for student teaching fears.)

No. My single greatest fear is that I will have an unfriendly, unhelpful, bitch of a cooperating teacher. If she (they) are kind, positive, and supportive, I can take thirty heedless, godless pagans intent upon stabbing me to death. I can take lessons going poorly. I can take just not being cut out for it. Those things would suck, but they'd suck significantly less than having to deal with the Hitler of elementary school teachers on a daily basis, and, worse yet, take over her classroom.

Yeah. So on Thursday, when I called the teacher with whom I'll be doing my first seven weeks, and she was short, snappish, and decidedly unhappy with the intrusion into her time, I had a panic attack, curled into a ball, and howled like a whipped puppy. Actually, that last part's a lie. I didn't. But I wanted to. Oh, man. I wanted to. The entire phone call lasted maybe thirty seconds (I told you she was short), but it was enough to make me quiver in my comfortable sandals. We managed to make an appointment to meet on Monday at noon, and I'm decidedly not looking forward to it.

I'm terrible, in that I often make snap judgements based on very little information. I called her at 3:20pm on a Thursday. She may have had children staying after with her; she may be super stressed due to the fact that it's the last few days of school; she may have had a really crappy day; she may have been ill... any number of innocuous things could have accounted for her curt manner. She may be Mother fucking Theresa, for all I know. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that she is not Mother fucking Theresa. As unfortunate as it may be that I make snap judgements, I have come to trust them. If I dislike someone right away, I almost always find out later that it's justified. In this case, I hope that it's not, for obvious reasons. But oh, man. Ohhhhh, man. I can't imagine anything worse than having a crappy cooperating teacher.

Oh, Goddess, pray for the soul of this sinning student teacher; deliver her from cooperating teacher hell; take upon you her burdens of copious sweaty panic and impending pants-shitting terror...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Ms. Frazzled Dons a Bra. And Shows 300 People.

What I am hoping at this very moment: in the future, none of my coworkers or students' parents will come up to me and say, "I knew I knew you from somewhere. You look different with your clothes on. You're that girl I saw dancing at [the gay club] in her bra on June 4th! Nice tattoo." (A la Josh Cohen, whose story I wholeheartedly appreciated.)

Well, that's a step up from the last entry. At least I was wearing a bra.

In other news, I finally got my first placement for student teaching next semester. I will be in a fourth grade in the ghetto. I did one of my prior observations at that school, and it was definitely an experience. I'm thinking that I may have some of the kids I did my observation with, since I was in a third grade room. At least I know the school, and it's fairly close. On Monday, I have to call the teacher and set up an appointment to meet with her.

Know what's funny? Both of my cooperating teachers have the same last name. One less thing for me to worry about forgetting.

Friday, May 20, 2005

In Which Ms. Frazzled is Made Highly Uncomfortable in Public

This evening, I got my first taste of what being a teacher really means for one's social life. Out and about with a close friend of mine, and, perhaps, not dressed as tastefully as I might have been (picture, if you will, a braless Ms. Frazzled, decked out in a tank top that revealed two of her tattoos, jeans hanging dangerously low on her hips and ripped at the cuff, a hoodie as old as dirt, and sandals clearly displaying her less-than-perfectly-polished toenails), with my sunglasses perched rakishly atop my less-than-coifed head, eyeliner smeared rather whorishly about, with my purse slung around me like a common tramp, I came upon a small boy. This small boy was not just any small boy; he was a small boy who I'd scolded many a time in this past semester's third grade placement, and who'd enveloped me in the loveliest hug when I left.

Meeting his eye accidentally, I realized that I must make a choice. Do I ignore said small boy, pretending as though I don't recognize him, and, therefore, must not be the Ms. Frazzled he'd come to know and love? No, that won't do. This particular tot was a smart one, and his scoldings had mostly occurred because he was so bright that, when he finished his work miles ahead of his classmates, he became quickly bored, and therefore entertained himself by making various types of trouble. I had to acknowledge him.

But I did not want to bring his mother into this. Ohhhh, no. She must not see me in this decidedly unprofessional manner. Calling him by name was also out, because when a mother hears her child's name, that can quickly turn from innocent meeting to interrogation. I decided upon a friendly wave while his mother's attention was turned elsewhere, and a characteristic Ms. Frazzled smile. I thought that this did the trick. He waved back, a curious look upon his face, as though he had just seen Ms. Frazzled not in her Friday Night Best, but in her Birthday Suit. He then walked along, and I turned away from him and brought my attention to the line for the register wherein I was waiting.

Several minutes later, when my transaction was complete, my friend and I continued out into the mall, where we perched on a bench waiting for a third party who had things to take to her car. While we waited upon said bench, the small boy and his mother proceeded through the door and walked past us. This time, I pretended to be engrossed in conversation with my friend, because I hadn't caught his eye, and thought ignoring to be the best course of action. Unfortunately, this bright and highly observant child did not fail to notice me. Ohhhh, no.

What do I hear but "Hi, Ms. Frazzled!" This, of course, forced me to turn and acknowledge the boy by name. "Hi, J. How're you?" I said back, hoping he'd not answer. Mercifully, he did not, and he and his (tall, blond, elegant looking) mother continued on. She gave me a kind smile, which is always better than a disapproving frown, but it left me quite shaken.

Teachers are not safe from their profession anywhere. The bartender could be your student's uncle. The police officer who tickets you for unsafe speed could be the superintendant's sister. The clerk at the porn store? No doubt your pupil's mother.

I shudder to think that I could have been decked out in my dykiest finery, my red Chick Magnet t-shirt out and proud; or that I could have had my favourite little boy's Bust A Nut shirt on, just begging for a lecture from this blond and, surely, concerned, matron. Or, God forbid, she find me at my most unprofessional, femmed out with cleavage up to my neck and my best "fuck me" jeans.

I am thankful that I was simply sloppy, and not outright offensive.

How do we reconcile this, when our classroom self is so distinctly different from our everyday self? I have never been anything but professional in front of students (save, perhaps, the time that I sprawled on my ass, in a most decidedly unprofessional manner, from a student's chair and had to smooth my skirt, which had behaved badly in said spill), but outside of school... that's not me. I'm a little vulgar; I take some joy in being controversial; I'm nothing if not relaxed and utterly unglamorous. I don't want to give that up. It's essential to my identity and to my mental health.

I suppose I just have to be cautious. Hoodies are always good. You can zip them up to hide almost anything emblazoned across your chest, and they make excellent disguises for tattoos. I will, forever more, be a devout carrier.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

In Which our Protagonist Becomes Emotional Pudding

Today was officially my last day of school for the semester. All the work is done and handed in; all of the projects and presentations are complete; all of the books for my thematic unit have been returned to the library; all the work I'll be getting back is back... and I couldn't possibly be more relieved. I am going to positively relish the boredom whenever it appears over the next few months. I am going to bask in having nothing whatsoever to do. I am going to become orgasmic at the thought of coming home from work and not having to spend my evening poring over this computer screen for anything but porn. Ha.

And it was a nice last day, too. Everybody brought in something to eat, and we had a breakfast, and everybody shared their thoughts about the semester, and it was generally just a relaxed, gentle way to ease us back into having lives again.

And the nicest part of it all was getting my work returned. Mark, the professor for the science portion of my Math/Science/Technology course, and I have gotten to know each other pretty well over these past couple of months. His daughter, who's in her twenties, has severe autism, and she went to school where I work in its earliest years. Mark's wife works there, and I've spoken to her once or twice. He and I formed a nice little bond over this common thread in our lives, and we email back and forth, and we talk quite a bit outside of the usual academic conversation. He's one of the warmest, funniest people I've ever met, and I positively adore him.

Anyway. He handed two of the assignments that he graded for me. One of them said, "I love this lesson. Can I keep it and use it as an example of an Inquiry-Based CLE for my next class? I'll take your name off if you want, but I would be proud of this. You write so well and have so much creativity that I'm jealous." On the bottom of the paper, he wrote "C. [one of the teachers where I work, who Mark knows very well] wants me to tell you to be a special ed. teacher. Invite me to your class when you decide what you're gonna do. I know I'll be impressed." In the other assignment, my science journal, that he handed back, he'd tucked an index card into it and wrote, "C.H. [same teacher] says you're a natural with the kids."

Nothing this semester was as good for my heart and for my soul as what he wrote to me. Over the past couple of days, I've been seriously questioning whether I'm doing the right thing. You give a lot of yourself and a lot of your time when you embark on this journey, and there is absolutely nothing easy about it. It can be stressful, lonely, difficult, and heart-breaking sometimes. I was concerned that I really don't have the inner resources that I need to be successful at teaching, and I even contemplated dropping out at this late stage in the game and taking some office job where people would leave me the hell alone and never ask me, for the seventeenth time, if they can sharpen their fucking pencil.

But reading what Mark had to say, and his passing on what C. had said about me (and C. is one of my goddamn role models at work; she is one of the best special educators I've had the pleasure of working with) - it gave me back some of my conviction and confidence. I love what I do. If I could make enough money to support myself at it, and just stay as an aide, I would. I'm at my best there. My best qualities - my patience, my sense of humour, my kindness - come out when I'm with my kids. To know that someone else sees this and has faith in my abilities is so heartening and amazing to me. I want to do it. And, in order to make enough money to keep doing it, I have to have a degree, and I have to have certification. And if I have to jump through a thousand hoops to do it, then I will.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Ms. Frazzled, Lesbian Extraordinaire

You may (or may not) have noticed my recent posting gap. This is due to the fact that something other than student teaching has taken over the neurotic, obsessive function of my brain for the past week or so, thus rendering me unable to focus the sort of bonafide-nut attention here that I normally would.

What could possibly be so important, you ask? What on Earth could possibly divert my tunnel vision?

Her name is Amy. And she's way more fun.

And why am I talking about her here, pray tell? Because being a dyke complicates things when you're going to be teaching elementary-aged students, perhaps a bit more than it complicates things in most other professions (save, perhaps, becoming a member of the clergy).

Traditionally, teaching is a rather conservative occupation. I understand that there are huge numbers of progressive, liberal, and queer-friendly teachers and administrators. In fact, I will daresay that there are more of them than there are staunch, inflexible conservative ones. At least, that seems to be the case in my particular area. But, as a whole, teaching is still a conservative profession. Teachers are expected to dress a certain way, behave a certain way, and to serve as role models for young people.

In today's political climate, I don't feel particularly safe disclosing this part of my personal life in a professional setting. In the "real world," I'm so out that it hurts (not me, mind you, but anyone who might be the least bit uncomfortable with it.) Ha. In my professional life, I have never lied, but I don't bring it up in conversation, and I certainly don't have "Ms. Frazzled, Lesbian Extraordinaire" printed on my business cards. Unfortunately, it's a risk.

Over the past several weeks, I have read about two separate instances in two different states of attempts being made to bar gays and lesbians (everybody leaves out the poor bisexuals, transgendered folk, and other queers when they're on their anti-fag crusades, I've noticed) from teaching in public schools. The thought of this is terrifying.

People tend to get a little bent out of shape when comparisons are made between the treatment of queers in today's society and the treatment of the Jews in much of just-pre-Holocaust Germany, but come on now. I'm not expecting to be carted off to the showers anytime soon, and I don't mean to imply that I am. What I do mean to imply, however, is that we are seeing systematic, government-sanctioned and indeed, government-initiated and -sponsored attempts to prevent gays and lesbians from participating in mainstream society. We are prevented from entering into certain legal contracts; our economic interests are being threatened by prejudice; our ideas and our lives are being censored (the recent events in Alabama libraries, anyone?) and touted as "obscenity," and we are forever being blamed and scapegoated for everything that's gone wrong in this country.

Breakdown of traditional marriage? Totally our fault, especially since we can't get married. The moral decay of children? Yep, that's us again. 9/11? Sorry about that. Our very presence tends to incur the wrath of God in the form of religious wackos flying aircraft without authorization. Global warming? Nah, it's not your gas-guzzling, Saudi dick-sucking SUV's, don't worry, and don't stop buying them. It's the goddamn fags and their super-carbondioxide-producing respiratory systems.

So you can see why I'm a tad apprehensive. The last thing I want is some angry asshole's repressed homosexuality to prevent me from using the degree I've busted my ass to earn. I don't want to have to be constantly on the defensive with parents; to be held to a different standard than my colleagues because they're just itching for a legitimate reason to fire me; to be presumed to be a morally bankrupt pedophile because when I go home, I eat dinner and watch crappy television with a beautiful woman instead of a man. It's insanity, and it's getting worse, not better. There's a huge backlash against all of the gains we've made in the past century, and I don't want to put myself in the line of fire any more than necessary.

How do I behave towards students and parents if they see me out with my girlfriend, holding hands? How do I respond to questions about my "husband" or my "boyfriend" (other than simply saying I don't have one)? How do I keep my integrity in a heterosexist, homo-fearful environment?

I feel like if I were going to be a highschool or college instructor, things would be different. I can remember having queer teachers in highschool and in college, and nobody made a big deal out of it. Sure, people snickered in the locker room and were utterly disgusting out of their earshot. I can handle that. But as far as I knew, there was never any real flak with parents or with the administration.

Maybe I'm going to find that my worries are completely ridiculous, and I hope that I do. But I fear for the worst, because I don't like the direction this country is heading. I don't feel safe with the headlines that are swirling around and the attempts that are being made to keep "my kind" away from the precious little children. It gives me creepy-crawlies up my spine. And it makes me absolutely furious.