Thursday, July 12, 2007

Essay: The First Five Minutes

The clicking of heels is a distinct sound cherished by little girls as the signal of being “grown-up.” The empty hallways ricocheted the crisp, brisk, sound off the highly-polished, tile floor, the red lockers, the bright, industrial lit ceiling, back down and around in a never-ending echo of efficiency. In that empty, big, industrial building, every sound seemed magnified, coming back to haunt its listener in a never-ending reverberation .

The click of the key in the door-lock was like a cymbal crashing. Stepping inside the door to the dark room and fumbling for the light switch resulted in a flood of light like the lightening of the storm that was building outside. Inside the room, the shadows, frightened away by the sudden infusion of light, peered in at the windows that looked out into the courtyard.

I stood for a moment surveying the room – the classroom – with a mixture of pride and sinking terror. The blackboard gleamed cleanly, begging to have words of wisdom scrawled across its face. The little pile of colored chalk (much more interesting to write with than boring, standard, white chalk) lay heaped ready for use. All the books to be handed out stood neatly stacked on the shelf looking large and somewhat daunting with their huge, purple bindings. The syllabi were painstakingly lined up on the table at the front, ready to be passed into the hands of seemingly uninterested teenagers who would no doubt be more concerned with how to earn an easy “A” than as to what magnificent works of literature they were to become masters of in the upcoming months.

The air held the tangy scent of cleaning polish, left over from the scrubbing the rows of desks had received on the previous day. 35 uncomfortable desks, all waiting to be marked up, doodled on, and more than likely otherwise abused by 100 students every day, were uniformly lined in precise rows.

At the back of the room, neatly organized with grade-book, lesson plan book, pens, pencils, tape-dispenser, and stapler, the teacher’s desk sat prominently ensconced in its own corner. The computer hummed a little as if waiting in eager anticipation for the hours of perfectly designed and flawlessly executed lesson plans that would be composed upon its keys. The bookshelf behind the desk was crammed with texts – dog-eared and marked, supposedly holding the keys to a perfectly managed classroom in which every student would succeed, all would behave angelically, and each would respect and trust their teacher – that paragon of wisdom and ability.

The teacher – knowledgeable, calm, humorous, yet able to control her classroom with a mere raise of an eyebrow. Well-loved, liked, a woman to be returned to in later year and thanked profusely by her students for being their guide, their shining-light to further paths of glory and success in the outside world.

At this point, day-dreaming broke off because of a rather sudden and unpleasant queasiness that made itself known and quickly grew to affect every limb and nerve with it’s panic-producing touch. Idealness, while pleasant to cherish, is unfortunately easily shattered and the distinct knowledge that one has chosen the wrong profession and will fail utterly and be disgraced completely is enough to daunt the strongest of personalities.

Failure loomed large: the students would learn nothing, chaos would break lose, and I instinctly knew that I would be run out of the school in two weeks with no job, no future, and bucket-load of nightmarish experiences.

Thus began the first five minutes of my career as a high-school English teacher.


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