“You’re gonna miss me, aren’t you, Mrs. Mercer?” a student asked me yesterday.
“You big goober, of course I’m going to miss you.” But I didn’t say the first three words out loud. (At least I don’t think I did.)
But I meant I would miss him, to my surprise. Back in autumn when I thought about this last week of school, I imagined myself dancing triumphantly out the doors having conquered my first year of teaching high school.
But I don’t think I’m going to be dancing tomorrow.
I started teaching the last week of September 2017, three weeks into the year. I had no training, no prep, no syllabus, and no real idea what I was in for. I’d taught college writing for a dozen years, but that is NOT the same as 10th grade high school. Not at all.
I knew the school was desperate, or else why would they have hired me and said, “They’ve had a rough three weeks. Just . . . mom them.”
Oh, I can do that. No problem.
But these weren’t my kids—
No, scratch that.
They were MY kids.
Last summer I had the weirdest sensation that I was going to find “MY kids.” That feeling emerged between moments of despair that I was leaving the greatest neighborhood in the state of Utah, and the greatest LDS ward (church congregation) in the world, and would be driving 2700 miles to a place I didn’t know, leaving behind half my kids and all of my friends.
I shed tears daily that summer, packing up our house, driving for six days cross country, settling in an unfamiliar rental house in Maine at the end of June, trying to find new work since I shut down my Etsy shop . . .
I’d read the job listings at the high school where my husband worked and saw the posting for an English 10 teacher. I’d quit teaching college a few years ago and was looking for a new career path, but that post gnawed at me. I knew they had already hired someone, but unexpectedly the words drifted in my head, “He had better be good to MY kids. Why did they give MY kids to him?”
But they’re not my kids!
Then the teacher was fired two weeks in, and an emergency substitute brought in. “She’d better be good to MY kids . . .”
But they’re not my kids!
Then I got a phone call from the school. Would I be interested in taking over as Permanent Substitute?
Finally, I get to take care of MY kids–
Who keeps saying that?!
It’s a good thing I was so naïve, because knowing what I know now, I would have turned down the offer in September. Except that I needed to find MY kids.
The first morning that I stood in front of my first English 10 class, I thought, “Ah, here are MY kids!”
I knew them. Already. Names would come later, but their faces were familiar. And as I learned their stories over the course of the year, I’d think, “I already knew that somehow. Because you’re MY kids.”
The same thing happened with the next classes, and creative writing, and advisor, and AP Lit—I knew them.
And man, were they ready for me.
I mean, they were ready to push and pull and yank and try me in ways I’ve never before been tried. This has been, hands down, THE hardest, toughest, scariest, best year I’ve ever endured.
I’ve never worked so hard, read so much, researched so deeply, looked so near and far for what to do and teach and say. I’d come home at 3pm and would usually put in another 5 hours of work each night and spend my weekends trying to learn how to teach high schoolers.
Some days were great—lessons and discussions took off better than I could have hoped. (I discovered my kids really like to write on the white-board with colored markers. And get treats. They’re just big 1st graders.)
But a lot of days were discouraging, and I’d think, “So I totally botched that. Why in the world did I think I could do this? Wait, wasn’t I going to find a new career besides teaching?” I had “one of those days” just last week, a they-need-to-hire-someone-else moment.
There were days when I knew I wouldn’t make it to June. The entire month of October my guts were in a knot of anxiety. I was going to fail MY kids, I just knew it.
Administrators would call me occasionally, asking how things were going. “Fine!” I’d chirrup, even though I had students much larger than me insisting I couldn’t make them work. That never happened when I taught college.
I still remember the new faculty meeting we had in November, when Mr. R. said, “We want each of you to wake up in the morning excited about teaching here!”
I don’t know if he could read the anguish in my eyes—I had just sent my first student to the office, and he was suspended for a week. I had failed MY kid.
But I smiled back, although I felt akin to drowning in the ocean, and Mr. R. was in a lifeboat peering over the edge and asking, “Doing all right?”
And I answered, “Swimmingly! No problems!”
My thumbs up would be the last anyone ever saw of me.
But somehow I got through it with the belligerent and mean and vulgar students, and the depressive boys, and the moody girls, and the ones who just wanted to hang out and talk, and the boys who showed me pictures of their trucks and lobster boats and the gadgets they were buying for the upcoming season, and the girls who told me about their horses and kittens and farms and lambs, and the kids who wrote about families breaking up, and drugs ruining lives, and alcohol wrecking another day, and all I could think was, “Oh, MY kids. Oh, my heart.”
They don’t know that I prayed for them, daily. Always as a group, but frequently by name. I’d ask God how to help this boy, or that girl, or that parent. Sometimes I had such a long list to go through at night that I’d fall asleep before I finished, and would wake up thinking, “Who’d I stop on? Whoever I didn’t get to, can You help me say the right thing to them?”
One of my classes is taking a final right now, some staring glumly at the page, others writing frantically, and here I sit typing this up and trying not to get misty-eyed as I realize that after this they won’t be MY kids anymore.
They’ll be someone else’s kids in 11th grade. (Because they darn well better not fail so we’re stuck with each other again next year.) Some may still come by my room to give me updates about their lives, and maybe some will return for AP Lit (I’ve been hired to teach next year, so I guess I found my career after all). A couple even call me Mama Mercer, so task #1 is complete.
My kids will move on.
Surely next year’s sophomores could never become MY kids. I mean, how many kids can I have? (Don’t answer that, because already I’m planning how to do things better for MY new kids next year.)
And yes, I’ll miss MY kids, because I had no idea how badly I wanted to be their teacher. God knew, and He’s probably smiling smugly down on me because, once again, He knows me better than I know myself. He shoved me clear across the country to fulfill a dream I forgot I had: to teach high school English. Now I just need to get a whole lot better at it.
I doubt I’ll dance out of here tomorrow once my grades are submitted. I’ll walk through silent hallways and empty parking lots, hoping I didn’t fail my kids too badly or too often, and probably quietly crying as I did last June, but for entirely different reasons.
Because, dang it, I am going to miss those goobers.
SNEAK PEEK into Book 8:
Lemuel concluded that falling asleep was impossible. His mind was haunted with visions of Perrin Shin in a general’s uniform. He stood with his arms folded and that one menacing eyebrow, arched.
Behind him stood her, with her head tilted in that annoying and admonishing manner all teachers possessed that indicated, Now you’ve gone and done it.
~Book 8, The Last Day, coming Summer 2018