Keeping the Lights On

First day on the job:

I drive up to Warden High School. I know it is the high school because there is a sign in the parking lot that says so. And there’s a largish brick and stucco building that looks like it’s probably a school, but I can’t find a front door. There are many doors that appear to be service entrances, all the way around the school, but nothing that looks as though it might be unlocked at 7:45 in the morning. Finally I ask a young man–who is sitting on a bench, staring glumly at his feet–if he knows where the entrance to the high school is.

He shrugs. “Dunno.”

That makes two of us.

Finally I follow a gaggle of girls in through what I’m certain must be a fire exit.

And lo and behold: there is the office.

I know this because there is a tiny little plastic sign screwed to the wall beside another obscure looking door.

Do they not want anyone to enter their school? Find the office?

The secretary hands me a single key and directs me down the hall and to the right to Mr. H’s room. It will be the last time I will see another adult for the rest of the day.

I figure out how to make the key and the lock successfully interact on room 314, and then I flip on the lights. All three of them, because the first two appear to do nothing. It isn’t until the door slams shut behind me that I realize the third one does nothing, either.

I’m standing in the dark, feeling around for another light switch. Nothing. I fish my cell phone out of my bag and consider calling the office, begging to be let in on the secret to illuminating my classroom.

Then I remember that they don’t answer the phone until 8.

I really don’t want to go back to the office. In the dim light making its way in from the hall, I can make out a large object on the far side of the room that is probably a desk. On the desk is probably a phone. Maybe the office would answer if I called from inside the school?

I can’t see any numbers in the dark.

But apparently I waited long enough for the gods of illumination to take pity on me: the lights blink on.

(They would blink off again whenever the students left and the gods decided I’d remained motionless long enough. During my planning period I’d have to periodically quit typing notes and start to wave my arms around.)

I arrived early so I could look through the textbook; it’s been a long time since I took high school math. So I sit down and panic over the first question. Call my daughter; she talks me through it. The rest looks easy enough, and my first class only has 11 kids in it. Breeze.

Period two: Something like 40 students. Freshman, I think. Egad. An intimidating number of them six times my size wearing skulls and headphones the size of earmuffs. You remember those, right? The big fuzzy ones that never really kept our ears from freezing, but we wore them anyway because it was better than a toque, and if your mother was watching you go out the door it was one or the other?

Turns out the kids with the headphones are the only ones who did any work. School policy makers who ban such items: take note.

Oh, and the kid from Belgium who only spoke French. Turns out he was some sort of genius, he just had really bad handwriting and didn’t know enough English (or know that I spoke enough French!) to tell me what he’d written down. That was an experience.

Seven hours later, I’m wrung out.  I have just enough time to get home, rescue a very done dinner from the oven, nag my children to do their homework, and leave again to sit through my own class until nine o’clock.


I learned so much, and yet I have a hard time putting it into words. At least not tonight.

4 responses to “Keeping the Lights On

  • ladywise

    Oh my gosh! You are finally a teacher! I’m so proud of you. You’ll figure it out, even the lights. That’s too funny that you were left in the dark. I seem to live in the dark (figuratively) anyway so I would have been just fine. The kids though, they scare me. I don’t like kids anymore. No way I would be responsible for educating them. Absolutely no way. All I would be able to do is tell them what idiots they are. lol

  • psphoenix

    You will do awesome! Thank Heavens for children that can comfort us and walk us through the foggy parts. You will do awesome, I can’t wait to hear more.

  • kimkiminy

    Wow. I can’t wait to hear more. I don’t know how you do it.

  • Flamingo Dancer

    Congratulations! I wish I could say the worst was behind you, but one thing is for sure, you are going to have a very interesting time. Exhausting, but interesting!

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