The Close of Summer: Miss O’ Remembers
We never got our rosters until about two days before the weekend before the first day of school, so that we could spend the three day weekend entering all the names on seating charts, into grade books, and into our memory banks, period by period, to learn all the pronunciations. The previous five teacher work days were spent cleaning and decorating the room, photocopying packets and syllabi and greeting letters and lesson sheets for the first two weeks of classes, in between attending meeting after relentless meeting, school level, county level—meetings on procedures, record-keeping, the new grade book, the school calendar, notes to remind one of being sensitive to religion/gender/disabilities and the consequences of not. Copies of all the first/second/third /fourth day attendance forms, to be filled out by homeroom period (yellow) and then every period (blue on day one, pink on day 2, green on day 3), so Guidance could follow up and track down the no-shows—these were the most important things we would turn in the first week. Then we were given the list of locker assignments and combinations to be distributed in homeroom, which lockers you only gave out once the kids turned in the two emergency cards, signed and with complete information, which we would have to check on day 2 of class. In between these meetings and organizings, we’d trot to the room where all the text books were stored, and lift, cart, and carry the requisite number (30-35/period) to our rooms (and in my case, five different rooms, for many years), labeling each stack with a blank piece of paper (with my name, O’Hara), so any other teacher using the room would know who had carted them in.
And of course there was collegial stuff, how was your summer, have you met the new English 9 teacher, and the leaping in to help out. At the final faculty meeting on Friday you’d get the stack of school folders, school calendars, insurance forms, newsletters, and blank emergency cards, which we’d take back to our home rooms, about a quarter of us setting them up ahead of day 1, which went like this: Put the school folder open flat on each of the 30+ desks (the inside of which contained sports schedules, holiday schedules, emergency numbers, office contact lists, and pockets to place others papers, syllabi, etc., a kid might amass on the first day (being not of a mind to bring materials to school, as many were). Then desk by desk, I’d walk the rows and place one of each form, form by form into the folders in the same order, for ease of reviewing aloud. I closed the exercise by paper-clipping a schedule onto the top of the closed folder, the name of which student would correspond with the names on my seating chart—homeroom completed before I left on Friday. I’d look so fucking organized there and then, that kids would at least have the illusion of my proficiency. It made them feel safe. Me—it made me feel safe.
Somewhere in there, I’d hang posters and create a cleverly themed bulletin board, half for drama, half for poetry and art, usually assembled by the two bright and bouncing former students who, like angels, showed up before school started just to say hi. “What can I do?” they’d ask, and I’d weep with gratitude and toss them the tape and stapler and point to the boxes of poster and border offerings. “Be creative.”
I began teaching in 1987, and had I stayed in the profession, Miss O’ would be starting her 24th year in schoolbusiness. As it is, I’ve been out of it for 8 years, and it’s clear as can be in my mind even now. I could walk into an English Department Office blind, so deeply does this stuff get into the bones. It’s a nightmare.
The nightmare begins after the stress of setting the stage, of wanting to create a place where magic can happen, after you scan your roster for names and face the impossible tax on your memory: Cesar Aguilar, Jorge Alocer, Fia Faivai, Sharlyn Fireoved, and Farhad Golizadeh, followed by Ashley, Ashely, Ashlee, Ashleigh, and ten Nicoles, and the realization that you have the third McIntosh sister and her first name also starts with an M, so Melinda can join Melissa and Melanie, and you can fret because you know you will say the wrong name and cause her to lose all sense of identity. IT WILL ALL BE MY FAULT.
Amazingly, Miss O’ only took up drinking when she came to New York.
Here’s to all the teachers out there, losing sleep tonight over the first day of school; to the ones who started back two weeks ago in 100-degree heat; to the ones who’ve retired or left and still remember the Tuesday after Labor Day because you can’t help it and oh my god why won’t it stop?
A new day, a new year, and a new blog begin!