There’s a cloud on the horizon, a malevolent crow staring in the window with beady eyes. A frisson of nervous energy tugging at my sleeve when I open a beer at noon.
Soon, there will no beer at noon.
Soon, there will be teenagers.
It’s coming, preceded by those horrible commercials of joyous mothers and skipping, giggling, fashionably dressed children with new lunch boxes and funky sneakers that cost more than my entire summer wardrobe.
It’s coming, preceded by horrible dreams where I fall repeatedly into holes in the floor of my classroom, children I don’t know drive golf carts down the hallways, bells ring when I’m in the bathroom and I can’t find my schedule or pens or paperclips. Dreams that wake me twitching and sweating, chanting the mantra ‘it’s still August, it’s still August.’
It’s coming, preceded by the memory of every September for the past ten years, a time of hope and expectation and anticipation… which by every November for the past ten years is replaced by a bone-weary exhaustion and a belief that sixteen year olds were put on this earth to give me wrinkles.
No wait, my children did that. No, it’s the sun. It’s global warming.
No. It’s the sixteen year olds.
It’s coming. School. I can feel it on the backs of my eyelids, the tips of my fingers, the roots of my hair which stands on end in alarming ways after not having been brushed all summer. I can’t wear my shorty shorts every day? I can’t show up in bare feet? I have to be organized?
Teachers face back-to-school with the same trepidation as their young charges. I am always excited about school, ready for new kids, wanting to do fun new things, eager to make it happen. I look forward to a few new items of clothing for my teacherly wardrobe. I skip merrily to the supply store and ogle the fancy pens, the colorful paperclips, the stapler shaped like a frog. I love that shit! New stickies, new markers, new posters for the wall.
A Hello Kitty lunch box.
New snacks for my drawer. Snacks are important. Sometimes you have to throw them food so they don’t devour each other.
Hand sanitizer. Because they leak. All over the desks, their homework, each other. I will not get sick this fall. Will. Not. (I always do.) I will sanitize the shit out of everything that crosses my desk. Including the gift of a random lobster sandwich that will make its way into my grubby hands in November. No. Scratch that. I’ll risk a runny nose for a homemade, thick-with-pure-heaven lobster sandwich from some darling child from Port Mouton. (Pronounced, not like French sheep, but Port Ma-toon) God, I love those tooners!
The kids are getting their supplies too, I’m sure. New cell phones, ipads, ipods, laptops, memory sticks, smart phones, gps units. So they don’t get lost on the way to Art class. I get pencils, they get ipads. (Is this the generation gap?)
The class pet has survived the summer on my daughter’s kitchen table. Mouse. It’s actually a gerbil, but we call it Mouse. My weiner calls it ‘lunch’, so it has lived with my daughter for the summer. Some of my students call it ‘science experiment’, so Mouse is as anxious about the return to the classroom as the rest of us.
I will go in next week. I will walk down the empty halls. I will smell that ‘school smell’. I will gird up my loins to face the fading of my tan as I spend hours preparing for what is to come. My classroom will have a shiny, freshly waxed floor which the custodians will beg and plead with me to keep clean.
“I teach Art, Darryl. It’s messy.”
“Just don’t let them drag the desks. Pick them up to move them.”
“There’s thirty of them Darryl. If I tell them to start picking up the desks it will be desk-dodge-ball before you know it!”
“Just don’t scratch the floor.”
I will open binders, I will re-align my smart board, I will gaze lovingly at the pristine art supplies and rows of perfectly ordered books. I will cry a little thinking of the mountain ahead of me.
It’s like climbing a mountain, the ascent into the school year. But there are no wise sherpas, no oxygen tanks when the air gets thin, no spiky things in my boots so I don’t slip back down the slippery slope. It’s a tough climb… getting to know the new kids, finding new material to entice them into learning, adapting to the bigger classes, the cutbacks, and demands on time and energy and patience.
And there is fear.
What if I don’t know what I’m doing? What if I get in front of them, and can’t think of anything to say? What if I forget the proper use of apostrophe s showing possession of a plural noun? What if I spell ‘onomatopoeia’ wrong?
What if they hate me?
What if some new technological marvel that I don’t understand rears its ugly head in my classroom, leaving me inert and ineffective, gesturing vacantly to a room of texting millennials?
This will be my tenth year teaching. High school English and Art. It’s the best job in the world. As much as I face September with trepidation, I really do love my work. But as technology marches inexorably onwards, I always start the school year certain that this year, this time, someone is gonna realize that I suck. And it will be the bored and hooded sixteen year old at the back of the class with the crazy app on his ipad that lets him draw a picture (of me, with fangs) with his fingertip and shoot it off to some far distant foreign country where three hundred other technological prodigies will evaluate, assess, comment and re-post his drawing across the globe in the time that it takes me to show them how to hold their pencils.
“Good, not too tight, and try to keep your wrist loose so you can have some nice flow across the page… yes, Gatekeeper Lucifer of the Golden Rod of Power?”
“I got BillyBob Burkenstock over in Sweden on my ipad-app-tweet-social-network-gps-moodle-gazillion-megabite screen here, says he don’t use pencils. He uses pen-pad. How comes we gots to use pencils?”
“Tell BillyBob you’ll talk to him later.”
“I’m face-timing him. He’s here right now. He says he don’t even know what a pencil is.”
“Tell him your teacher grew up when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Tell him she only just moved on from slate and chalk. Tell him you have to go split wood to keep the schoolhouse warm in the winter. Tell him good bye, and pick up your pencil.”
In September, I fear I may not be up to these challenges. I have only just learned how to tweet. I have only just realized that my phone can connect to the internet. I have only just figured out how to set the clock on my VCR.
I know, under the layers of anxiety that welcome a new school year like waving sheets of unmarked essays, that it will be fine. I will bob and weave around the techy issues, because at the end of the day they still need to know the difference between there, their and they’re. They still need to know how to put a pencil on a piece of paper. They still need to know that I love them when they bring me lobster sandwiches.
And teenagers are delightful wee creators of havoc and mayhem, and they always manage to keep me on my toes. Maybe this year I’ll figure out what a ‘cloud’ is.
What if they hate me?
What if I bore them absolutely to death?
What if, in their boredom, they pick up the desks and start hurling them at each other?
Well… at least we won’t scratch the floor.