At my high school graduation, the class valedictorian opened his speech with a quote from Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’ I imagine that a few English teachers cringed a bit. Once the speaker encouraged change and innovation, they knew that he had missed the point of the poem.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Summer is drawing near, bringing with it Floridian vacations with family, cookouts amid 90 degree afternoons, and an opportunity for a little soul-searching. I’m not sure how other teachers begin their summer. Alcohol and long morning naps surely are incorporated in some way. My Aunt Sue often visit us in June and July when we were kids, before she retired after nearly thirty-years teaching science in Arkansas. She would bring large plastic bins — the size of pound-cakes — filled with a powerful concoction of alcohol and fruit-juice for which my mom would ceremoniously clear a place in the family freezer to harden overnight. The next day the two of them, Mom and Aunt Sue, would extract ice cream scoops and dig out the slushie mixture with the same care and joy as a miner unearthing a golden cache. They’d sit out by the pool and while away the day until they’d be too exhausted or drunk to move.
“My summer has begun!” Aunt Sue would shout. “No kids. No grading. This is the life!”
Typing. Typing. Typing. Typing. Trying to drum up some creative new posts for this blog. Something interesting and original.
What to say, what to write, I ask myself. Gaming? My Hunter just got to Light Level 400 in . . .
You did say original, right? Cynical Me interjects. And with the countless millions Twitching and podcasting while posting actual gameplay, who would actually read ‘The Adventures of Murph on Digital Mars?’
Sardonic but on point. Okay, so no games. What about day-to-day? Should I start complaining about work?
Yeeaah, sure. People would love to read about grading Scantrons and the conservation of mass, I reply my inner voice practically dripping with venom. Everything you do is either boring or depressingly boring. Reading is for escape. And nobody wants to read about school life unless you can guarantee postal owls and magic wands.
You’re not leaving me many choices here. I work so I can buy games. I play games to decompress from work. It’s a never-ending cycle of co-dependence or simply poor life choices, I’m not sure which. Continue reading
Honestly, this next post was devolving into a tirade about parents and report cards until I realized that its summer and frankly I just don’t want to go there. Everything is electronic and online nowadays so parents and students can track the student’s progress weeks before they receive their report cards by mail. Not all parents are comfortable with the program or forgo checking until June. As such, I’m still receiving emails from parents asking how their daughter received this grade instead of that grade in this subject. Some even request meetings, which can erode into the parent venting their frustration at the teacher. I received one such email on Tuesday, and dread crept a little into my heart. Conferences like these are part of the job, sure, but once summer commences, even one additional second worrying about grades or fretting over angry parents becomes an intrusion, like a car alarm in the middle of the night.
In order to recall my missing mojo, Kevin, Bree and I decided that yesterday we would have an adventure. Thus, the next day, we drove to Northern Virginia to spend the day at Kings Dominion, one of Virginia’s premier theme parks and roller coaster factory. Most theme parks choose two paths when attempting to draw in summer crowds. The first involves creating a ‘world’ or an ‘adventure.’ Disney does this rather well, creating a traditional thrill ride but attaching a story or theme to heighten the emotional experience. Hollywood Studios’ Twighlight Zone Tower of Terror is a good example. By linking the idea of the Twighlight Zone and ghosts to a simple freefall ride, you create suspense as guests become part of the story. They relish the thrill, and as such buy more T-shirts.
True adventurers have never been plentiful. They who are set down in
print as such have been mostly business men with newly invented
methods. They have been out after the things they wanted–golden
fleeces, holy grails, lady loves, treasure, crowns and fame. The
true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and
greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son–when he
started back home. — O. Henry, “The Green Door.”
Jumping into the car on the last day of school terrifies me. For teachers, summer vacation can prove a daunting enterprise particularly if you happen to be single. “Balderdash!” you may shout in a Victorian accent. “I have a 9 to 5 job throughout the entire year. You teachers have it lucky what with this summer vacation nonsense. Pip pip cheerio. Fish and chips.”
Well, let’s field that common misconception first. Imagine you have trained your entire life as a scientist or a writer. After graduating with your Masters degree, you find jobs in short supply due to . . . let us say because of a ‘recession.’ You take a job as a teacher in a high school, which slowly consumes your entire life. You teach all day, and on nights and weekends, you plan new lessons, create tests or grade grade grade until your fingertips are permantly stained red with misplaced commas and imbalanced chemical equations. This is your life. These kids, their needs and their dreams, become your life. Tunnel-vision within a textbook.
As a student, it always amused me to stumble upon my teachers outside the classroom: at the mall, in the movie theater, or even on the school parking lot. Somehow it seemed strange to discover that our educators had lives and families outside the school property, as if they had apartments in the teacher lounge or — more abstractly — ceased to exist entirely without their class. I would imagine Mrs. Willis and Mr. Phebus melting from the walls at the ringing of the bells, reforming flesh from discarded glitter glue and construction paper like a Terminator villain armed with copious lesson plans and graded algebra tests.
The motivation behind all scientific discovery begins here . . .
October found me eager and excited, brimming with confidence and creativity for my work . . . at least during weekends. However, Monday mornings broke with the din of a funeral march, disturbing those few early morning dreams and ushering me upstairs upon the family couch while reruns of Law and Order painted visions of murder and desperation before sleep-filled eyes. Waiting to leave the house proved the most trying, as my imagination, planting visions of screaming children and growling soccer moms, tried its damnedest to wrack my body with anxiety, upset my stomach and basically ruin the whole of my week.
Thankfully, I had Dunkin Donuts and their wonderful battalion of iced coffees to attack my flagging spirit and sleep deprivation. Truly, the smell alone had a soothing effect; the extra-large galleon-sized container of liquid energy, a balm to my worries. My imagination, drowning in legal stimulants, learned to behave, and I drove to school, happily contemplating Thanksgiving and Christmas break, only three months away.
The fallout from the field trip befell us the following Monday when Dr. T took us in the conference room for lunch. Slowly Ms. P spilled the story, downplaying our absence at the deli (a little) and deleting the abusive pot-smoker entirely (to be fair, the kids were not involved at all). Continue reading
Yeah, the whole trip felt like that . . .
Of all the nonsense that befell Unity over the following months, nothing frightened me more than the sight of the kids stumbling to the edge of the highway, ready to play Frogger with speeding yuppies from Kingsmill and weekend historians.
The man behind us shouting on his cell had already called the police by the time we left the deli. Ms. Jane was screaming for the kids to return when he noticed us. Ms. P and Catherine were still buying snacks on the opposite end of the plaza. Sporting a greasy comb-over and a haunting odor of Axe body spray, the man – who I will forever christen as Little Pesci – addressed me first, obviously mistaking me for the leader of educational band; although it was Ms. Jane who answered.
“Are those your children?” he asked. He had this way of saying ‘your’ like an old woman in a Pollyanna movie, as if only the children’s guardians would possibly summon a pack of middle school students from rushing headlong into traffic and playing dodgeball with a Buick. That fact that he happened to be right only proved the guy was a total prick as well as an idiot. Continue reading
I had been teaching for nearly three weeks when the field trip fell apart. Much like flood, fire, and any other suburban disaster, the whole fiasco proved more horrible in the retelling afterwards amidst a room of anxious parents.
Teaching back-to-back classes to the middle school already had stretched my nerves thin. I had given up most attempts at sleeping, choosing instead to restlessly worry for about four or five hours and then stumble upstairs at four in the morning to wait for my morning commute. Typically – and I mean this in the corniest way possible – I thrive in the shadows of mankind, observing, taking notes and basically keeping to myself. Is that sad? Absolutely. Pathetic? No doubt. Anti-social? Hey, you’re three for three here. However, that’s me. I idolized Batman a lot as a kid. Continue reading
My lesson on Native Americans allowed us to make ceremonial masks.
“. . . and now I would like to introduce our newest teacher, Mr. Murph . . .”
Dr. T pauses to laugh. A few amused smiles dance across the faces of my fellow teachers. I politely offer a grin, grateful for a few extra minutes to map out my introduction.
“Actually, our second Mr. Murph . . . as you can see we’ve hired not only another Jess, but another Murph as well this year. As many of you know, we already have a Mr. Murph teaching gym,” she gestured toward the grizzled man in grey sweats, two seats down; Mr Murph nodded. “For the sake of the kids, we probably won’t change his name. So we’ll have to think of another nickname for you, Murph. Have you thought up anything yet? Mr. Murphey, maybe?”
“Um . . .” I momentarily falter. “Well, the kids have dubbed me MK . . . uh, using my first and last initials.”
“Ooo . . . I like that . . . Mr. MK,” Ms P, the drama teacher, interjected with a deep British accent. “Kinda rolls off the tongue.”
A frown lingers on Dr. T’s face for a second or two, yet just as quickly, she returns to her sales-pitch, all smiles and gratitude. Two weeks into my teaching post at Unity, and I still felt rather guarded toward the school principal. Though impressions varied among the staff, I treated my employer with polite respect and mild indifference. Continue reading