Teaching wasn’t easy for me.
Even today, I have sort of a soft voice–even when I’m firming up my diaphragm and using my drama skills. And my brain! Training my brain to break down something I knew just by breathing into tiny digestible chunks, like breadcrumbs, to lead reluctant teenagers to the prize–it took more discipline than my family thought I had.
I did it though. It was important to me.
My first teaching job that wasn’t subbing in one of the worst districts in the state was a job interview I hadn’t meant to get. I was SEVEN MONTHS PREGNANT. There were no laws protecting pregnant women or mothers 28 years ago. Getting fired for being pregnant was a perfectly legal thing, and holding it against someone that they had to take off work for being with a sick child was totally acceptable. Commendable even. That was what administrators thought of as doing a “good job.”
But I got the job–surprise! And none too soon, because at that point, having the baby was going to cost us $3500, minimum, and at that point, Mate was still working in a restaurant kitchen and waiting tables. Health insurance–Kaiser–that would let me give birth was worth getting fired over, and we both knew it.
So there I was, 8 1/2 months pregnant, waiting for my first job review. I was in a conference room, during my prep period, exhausted. The job was great–except for the fact that I had four classrooms and was carrying a milk crate full of books around on one of the old luggage wheelies that were replaced when luggage companies started making roller boards instead. All I remember from this time period was getting home, sitting on a corner of the couch, and watching the original Batman the Animated Series and Animaniacs until I could get up, make dinner, and go to sleep. Mate worked nights then–he would leave me, exhausted, and feel like shit too.
Those were the days.
Anyway–so there I as, exhausted, sucking down a milk that one of the ladies in the office was kind enough to get me, when suddenly I heard the two ladies in the office talking about when the district was going to fire me.
How awful it was that I had interviewed when I was pregnant.
How I couldn’t possibly be doing the job well because I was huge.
And into the middle of that, the administrator walked in, closed the door, and proceeded to give me a pretty decent review.
I was still fired at the semester. And from the job I got the next semester because my son wouldn’t stop screaming and as went through childcare like gangbusters, and then a whole sequence of events I won’t bore you with now.
I’m just saying I remember the betrayal, the unkindness, and the meanness that was designed to hit me where I lived.
And I still went in to teach the next morning. I taught until the Monday before I gave birth. I came back six weeks later and gave the final.
And I didn’t say a word to those tiny-minded women whom I thought were on my side.
It wasn’t the first time–or the last–that I overheard unkind things said about me by people who were supposed to be my friends. And the thing is, I’m still standing. I worked hard to be a good teacher. Nobody thought I could do it–I was too sweet, too much of a pushover, too much of an “earth mommy” (that quote was made directly to my face by another colleague, btw) and I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about if I wasn’t a complete twat about forcing my opinion down other people’s throats.
And the funny thing is, before I teach, I agonize over every word, every moment of the thing I’m teaching, making sure it’s important enough to say, important enough to put into words, and to assert to the world its worth learning.
But I still do it, whenever possible. And it’s still worth it. And I’ve learned how to take those moments of unkindness and betrayal with a grain of salt.
I know who my friends are. And after overhearing conversations like that one in the principal’s office, I know who they aren’t.
And I’m stronger than people think I am. And I’m still standing.