This month: Laura

Every year for the last four years I’ve gotten a tight knot in my stomach around this time that refuses to go away. Mid-August means going back to school.

Now, if you know me, you know that (a) I’m 26 and I began the final year of my education five years ago and (b) I dearly loved attending school—all those years it was more of an I-can’t-wait-to-get-back-to-it! feeling starting sometime in July. (I know. You hated kids like me. I also mostly enjoyed doing homework. I don’t care.)

But for two years right after Calvin, I was a teacher. It’s a long and uninteresting story about how I ended up there after dropping out of the education program mid-way through my third year at Calvin (when I discovered that I hated teaching). Long story short: a crappy nannying job made me forget that I hated teaching so when a school wanted to hire me, I said yes.

I also won’t go too deeply into my teaching experience because I think I still have Post Teaching Stress Disorder and just talking about that year makes me a bit anxious and twitchy. I had six different classes—five different preps, plus supervising an independent study, accompanying the choir, accompanying the school musical, tutoring after school to make ends meet, and the never-ending pile of grading papers that comes with being an English teacher. My forty seniors each had to write a 10-12 page research paper second semester to fulfill their graduation requirement. A parent called me the day after I’d pulled a grading all-nighter (I pulled all-nighters more often that year than I did in all four years at Calvin) to call me lazy and useless because I had asked my students to do some peer-editing. I had no administrative support—in fact, the principal sat me down in November to tell me that my job was impossible and there was nothing he could do about it. And then he left the room because my tears made him uncomfortable.

Oh, and I was also planning my wedding.

During that year I seriously considered running away more than once. Immature though the idea was, getting in my car and leaving without telling anyone where I was going sometimes felt like the only way to escape the soul-crushing pressure. For nine months straight I was more miserable than I think I have ever been in my life.

***

This morning I dropped my pen at work. I was walking back from a meeting and it just flew out of my hand for no apparent reason. Mildly embarrassing, since I nearly beaned my boss, but in general a thoroughly forgettable incident.

But I smiled. I had that problem all the time when I was teaching—I would be lecturing with a pen in my hand and I guess I just regularly forgot it was there or something, because probably two or three times a day my pen would fly across the room without my intending it to. I think I was known more at school for accidental pen-flinging than anything else; my renown spread even to students who didn’t have me in class. “Do you really throw your pen all the time?” asked more than one student stopping by my classroom to deliver something from another teacher. When the seniors put on a homecoming skit and dressed up as the various teachers, the kid playing me had a pocket full of twenty or thirty pens to throw around at random. One senior kept a long-running count of the times I dropped my pen in his presence—I think it was over a hundred by the end of the year.

So when my pen went flying this morning, I smiled, remembering the kids who took delight in their clumsy teacher. I remembered how sweet some of them were when I sat down and cried because I couldn’t take it anymore. I remembered spending a week with my seniors in Colorado and how God moved there. And I smiled because it was good to remember something good from that year.

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