Peer pressure a funny thing – what it can make you do, or not do.  Peer pressure is responsible for my brother’s almost normal, borderline Eurotrash, um, fashion stylings.  And I think I prefer this (even with the sun glasses indoors) to his middle school uniform of track pants or sweat suits.  In high school, he suddenly became aware there was more to life than clothing that went swish, and my mother found herself in the GAP, trying, at his insistence, to ease his transition into high school with such novelties as jeans and khakis. 

Peer pressure is also an evil, terrible thing.  I’m not even talking about doing drugs and just saying no, and bullying (wait, maybe a little, but we’ll get to that).  I’m talking about my career research project in 7th grade Home-Ec, or Family & Career Skills, or Home and Consumer Science – whatever they called it in 1993.  In a unit that had us engaging in mock interviews, writing checks, and filling out job applications at McDonald’s, we were of course charged with researching and writing a paper on a career of our choice.  At that point in my life, I wanted to do interior design.  I don’t know where I picked up the idea, but I knew that I loved color and fabric, and that whenever the mood would strike me, I’d rearrange my room.  It’s not just a far leap to interior design.  I still cannot resist, upon entering a friend’s apartment or a house for sale, mentally knocking down walls and rearranging furniture.  Just mentally.  Until I get my jackhammer. 

But as I prepared to make my selection in 7th grade, D.F. also made his choice, and he said interior design, too.  In an era before such things as “Asperger’s” and “social pragmatic language disorder” likely existed, and certainly before they came into vogue, there was D. F., waiting for the psycho-educational specialists to find him.  I think back then society may have referred to him by the derogatory “idiot savant” designation.  He and another student, C. S., had each completed high school math by the end of 8th grade.  Because we lived in a small town, there was barely such a thing as advanced course work, and very little support for the gifted student, so D.F. and C.S. were pretty much self-taught.  They worked their way through textbooks, taking the New York State Regents when they felt they ready, and acing them all along the way.  I’m sure they’re on their way into Fortune 500s and discovering cures for diseases by now. 

But back in 7th grade, they were just awkward, dorky, snivelly, and the only 2 kids who wore their backpacks by both straps.  As soon as the words “interior designer” left D.F.’s lips, I was on the path to becoming something else, anything else.  So I chose to research “teacher”.

Somehow or another, Teacher stayed in my mind.  I think many children must think about being teachers when they grow up, as teachers are the profession they interact with most.  I knew doctor was out, as it took too long.  Lawyer was out, because it seemed incomprehensibly boring, and required you to wear blazers.  The whole idea of “business” remains a mystery to me.  I watch “The Office” occasionally, and while I can now identify with cubicle jokes and staff meeting agony, I still am no closer to understanding the daily jobs of middle management or the work-a-day cubicle-slave.  I just didn’t know about that many other professions, and, besides, I idolized my teachers, keepers of the answer keys and ultimate givers of positive feedback.  When you’re good at school, you kind of want to stay there forever. 

College opened up other worlds to me, but I still couldn’t quite see the correlation between undergraduate majors and the jobs available in the Real World.  Turns out that’s because there isn’t any.  And unless you’re brilliant like my sister, and major in social work, or have relevant skills like my computer science friends do, you’re pretty much lining up for minimum wage jobs, but with B.A. after your name. 

Sadly, I was considered too educated for many of the jobs I applied for.  I say this not to be a snob, but because I was very flatteringly told so, as I applied to job after job after job.  I couldn’t even get a mall job.  And I tried.  I put on my most epic look, and went down to Pacific Sunwear.  I got an initial interview, and never heard back. 

So I started teaching, not because it was my first choice anymore, but because it was there.  I worked at a private school, which is the only place I could work, given that I didn’t have any teacher certification, and I had majored in linguistics.  That’s almost as bad as classics, employment-wise.  I loved working in preschool.  I soaked up all the information my lead teacher/mentor doled out, and used it effortlessly in the classroom.  I loved the campus, I loved the kids, I loved the creativity.  I was still a little petrified on days when I’d sub for the lead, afraid the kids would find out I was a fraud, or not completely a grown-up, or had never taken a course in child development. 

They never asked.  I was lucky in that my mentor took a chance on me, on my interactions with children, on my babysitting and camp counseling experience, on my common-sense approach and my way with words, and my intuitive understanding of the 3- and 4-year-old mind.  Truthfully, though, it was not something I could envision myself doing forever.  Though the job was rewarding, the pay (private school + preschool + assistant + no certification) was abysmal, and I looked into my options. 

Let us forget for a moment my brain surgery, my burgeoning relationship with my then-boyfriend, or the full range of absurd career options my mother was trying to cram into my head. 

Did teaching enter my mind?  Absolutely.  Master’s in Education, certification, etc.  And it all meant graduate school.  Whereas undergrad had meant 4 years of self-indulgence, sleeping in, and selecting courses based on the workload and best schedule, graduate school might actually lead to some employable skills (besides, of course, work avoidance, which I had practically majored in).  

In evaluating my options, I considered my strengths.  I preferred working with kids in small groups.  Though my classroom management skills have become a strength I continue to rely on, I recognized that I didn’t want to spend my career at the front of a class of 25 or 30 school-age kids, or even 18 or 20 preschoolers.  I didn’t want to be the one responsible for teaching all the subjects, at elementary level, or dealing with adolescent drama, in middle and high school.  While preschool is great, and I will frequently profess it is my favorite age, I really wanted to get away from extraneous boogers, toileting, and shoe-tying.  I tell people that the reason I went to graduate school is so I wouldn’t have to change diapers (other than my own children’s). 

It’s not just the actual act of the diaper change, which of course is gross but necessary.  It becomes even less appealing as the kids get older.  Ask me how I know.  But as a speech pathologist, I get the benefit of returning a 5 year old to his classroom and telling the teacher he needs to be changed.  I recognized this power in grad school.

That, and I was terrified of full classrooms of children. 

From time to time, a great idea of a lesson plan or a curricular theme, or even a bulletin board design will invade my brain.  I’ll think of fantastic projects or writing activities I’d love to explore with different age groups.  I’ll think of ways I could improve the layout or decor of any classroom I enter, and I take mental notes upon entering classrooms what ideas I would hypothetically steal for my imaginary class.  When I was working in community-based early intervention, I couldn’t help but think of and suggest ways to improve the environment; it was my job.  I guess Teacher is still wired into my brain on some level. 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to explore that unrequited calling.  Because it was Bullying Awareness Week last week, my school is exploring what the kids know about bullying and using it for several activities.  The speech pathologists were each charged with bringing a planned discussion and activity into several classrooms.  On Wednesday, as I reviewed my lesson plan, a teacher whose class I was to take over asked kindly if he could use that period as a prep to finish his presentation for an upcoming conference.  Translation: I had his kids alone, by myself, without him.  Twice. 

Well, after shitting myself and recoiling from the shock, I steeled myself against the prospect of two 7th grade classes.  And yesterday, I did it. 

I’ll not pretend everything went perfectly according to plan.  Some kids took a “pass” on the independent work altogether, while others dwelled on misremembered amalgams of news stories/internet memes related to bully-instigated suicide.  However, they were all engaged in the activity to some extent, and I made it through without letting on how terrified I really was.  Twice. 

 What’s ironic is that the other class I invaded had even more kids, and their teacher sat idly by at his desk, noodling around on his computer, or perhaps doing progress notes (which, as an SLP, I don’t have to do!  Perk!).  I wasn’t sure how engaged he would be in the discussion, as some teachers had interacted more than others, but he said only one thing during the entire class – he asked for relative silence during the independent work portion of the period.  And that was it.  He didn’t have to be there, but in my mind he provided a safe “out”.  I could royally fuck up, and he would be there to rescue me.  I could lose the kids entirely, and he’d step in to make it relevant.  They might threaten mutiny, and he’d give them the stink eye.  None of which happened, mind you.  It really was just me, acting as the Teacher, in front of a classroom full of kids.

If I ever get the hankering to be overworked, underappreciated, and have to deal with classroom issues like pencil sharpening, bathroom breaks, progress notes, grading papers, designing rubrics, assigning homework, and appearing confident, it’s nice to know I could do it.  As long as the school I taught at didn’t make me wear a blazer.

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