Tuesday a few weeks ago…
I get through grading one paper before the phone rings.
“This is Katie.”
“I’ve never called an assitant proctor before, and I’m really sorry, but that girl in the front row is freaking out at me and crying because she can’t use her mechanical pencil. I think she wants to murder me.”
“Be right there,” I say.
I rush through the hallways to the testing room. I know which girl it is before I get there. She’s never been one of my students, but she was in my room the last time we did standardized testing. She’s a little off. Her clothes are dirty every day, and she has an OCD way of talking.
When I get in the room, I go straight to her desk. The other teacher is ignoring her. He has the look of a man who doesn’t know what to do with tears. His eyes dart to her every few seconds.
“What’s going on?” I ask her.
I check her test sheet and find out that her name is Hannah. Her head is in her arms, so I can’t see her.
She doesn’t answer.
“Hannah?” I say. “Are you okay?”
She lifts her head a little and I see a string of snot stretch between her arm and nose. These aren’t the tears of a high school sophomore. This is exactly the reason I didn’t go into elementary ed.
“I know you want to use your pencil, but the rules of the test say for you to use the one we provide. Mechanical pencils don’t always show up as well.”
She doesn’t say anything. She keeps crying.
“Let me see what I can do,” I say. “I’ll be back.”
I talk to the other teacher to see if I can get him to let her use her pencil. I’m a pushover, so I’d just let her use it, but he won’t budge unless we get administrator permission, so I decide to walk down to the office and talk to the assitant principal. Unfortunately, he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t have much sympathy for kids, and although he considers letting her use the mechanical pencil, I think he’s more annoyed than concerned and his tough-love side wins out. I go back up to the room.
“Hannah,” I say. “I talked to Mr. _______ and he said that we can’t let you use your pencil.” She lifts her head again and I see that in addition to the snot, her eyes have gotten really red.
I look around the room for a box of tissues, but don’t find one.
“Do you want to walk to the bathroom with me?” I ask Hannah.
She shakes her head.
The other teacher comes over and tells Hannah she has to go with me out of the room.
“I’ll just use the pencil,” Hannah sniffs.
I think this bothers the other teacher more than if she’d just kept crying. He’d rather be rid of her than win a million dollars right now. The tears are just too much. He tries to convince her to go with me.
“I’ll just use the pencil,” she whines.
The teacher looks at me.
“Great!” I say. “Let’s make a quick run the the bathroom for some tissues and to clear your head, then you can come back and ace this test.”
Hannah shakes her head.
Okay. I think. She just needs a minute to get herself under control.
The other teacher has had enough. He grabs the sign-in sheet and tries to get Hannah to sign her test back in.
“Just go with Ms. James,” he urges.
Hannah shakes her head.
He reaches over and grabs her test booklet, sliding it away from her.
Bad move. I’m thinking she’s going to grab the other side of her booklets and start a tug-a-war. Instead, she jams her arms down on top of the booklets. The teacher pulls a little harder and manages to wrench them away from her.
“Sign out, please,” he says.
We step away for a second, and he asks me to go get an administrator.
“Really?” I ask.
This isn’t the kind of thing I want to be bothering my boss about. We can handle it if this guy will just let the girl calm down. But he insists, so I go back to the administrator’s office. He follows me back up to the room and removes Hannah from the testing situation.
Lunch rolls around, and I put my work away, preparing for the normal part of the day. The bell rings, signalling the end of lunch and English Language Learners come in…
On days like this, we never really have class. There are only 3 students in the room, and they’ve spent all morning testing, so I let let them catch up on work they’ve missed or read silently.
Seeing as I did such a good job grading this morning, I don’t have any work to do, so I pull out CATCHING FIRE, the second book in the HUNGER GAMES trilogy. I don’t know why I think it’s a good idea to read this book at work. I cried about every 5 chapters or so when I read the first one.
So I’m reading, and something really sad happens in the story. A character dies. And I can’t believe it. It’s just SO sad.
I slam the book shut to keep from crying.
“What’s wrong, Ms. James?” one of them asks.
“It’s just so sad,” I tell them.
“Which part are you at?” one of them asks. He’s reading the book too.
“They just went to district eleven and the old man died.”
The student cracks up. “Yeah, that was sad,” he says in a thick accent.
“Why are you laughing?” I ask.
“It’s funny how you are so serious about it.”
I teach one more class, then it’s my planning period. I have a meeting with an administrator (not the one from this morning) who needs to give me my evaluation results.
I don’t know why, but this always makes me nervous. I’ve been teaching for 3 years now, and this is the third evaluator I’ve worked with, so I haven’t yet had the opportunity to get used to one of them. That could be part of it. Also, the lesson he observed occurred more than a month ago, so I hardly remember it.
When I get to his office, his assistant, who I’ve known for ALL 3 years of working here, who I talk to about once a week, and who I’ve always gotten along with fine, somehow forgets that I’m an adult.
“What do you need?” she asks gruffly.
Granted, there are two kids already here, and the school resource officer is standing with one of them, which can’t be a good sign. He’s wearing his school resource officer outfit, looking all tough and officer-like.
“I’m meeting with Phil.”
The assistant looks me over for a second as if I shouldn’t be calling our assistant principal by his first name, then her eyes light up.
“Katie! Sorry about that. He’ll be with you in a second.”
I get mistaken as a student pretty regularly, but mostly it’s by new teachers. And today has been a rough one for feeling like a grownup. The thing with Hannah threw my confidence a bit because I’m usually so good with stuff like that. Also, I think I’m losing weight again, which in a weird way causes me to lose confidence. I feel fragile. You might not believe me, but when you start seeing bones you’ve never seen before, you feel a lot like someone could break you in half pretty easily. Collar bones and wrists are my favorites 🙂
“Katie, come on in,” Phil says just as the resource officer exits his office.
One of the reasons evaluations make me nervous is that I’ve never gotten a perfect one.
They always give me something to work on. They always nail me for not sticking to the lesson plans exactly, for not using enough technology, or whatever. I get really good evaluations, but there’s always that one area for improvement.
This time. I get. My very first. PERFECT EVALUATION!
Phil goes on and on about how great my relationships are with the kids. He gushes over my innovative classroom management plan (no one’s ever called me innovative before). My collaborative learning groups are evidently organized perfectly (using research-based techniques) and I engage intrinsic motivation.
And that, my friends, is a day in the life of a teacher.