I’m aware of darkness and a void, almost a vacuum, immediately before the light hits my eyes and I’m blinded. I realize I just slid out of a chute of some sort and as my eyes adjust, the overwhelming hum of a busy city street fills my ears and vibrates all around me. The humid warmth of a dirty bustling street hits most of my skin, too much of my skin, I’m not protected anywhere. I look down to see that I’m naked, only half of my important bits covered by thin, ill fitting fabric.
The horror of this moment is quickly taken over by my need to seek protection, clothing, newspapers, anything to cover my body, while rushing away from the laughter and pointing from people on the street who are fully clothed and stopping to look.
The embarrassment is overwhelming and the sounds of the street turn into a dull muffled ringing, much like when you dive underwater: there’s no sound, but there is sound. As I search for something to cover myself up with, a familiar late 70’s/early 80’s beat begins to play through the hum and is coming from my left.
I wake up with a start and turn off my morning alarm clock.
I guess it’s the first day of school.
I’m 46 years old and I’m starting a new career. I wish it were because I wanted to. I wish it were because I had just won the lottery so I no longer had to worry about my daily bills and then could do whatever pleased me, including using the education degree I had earned over 10 years ago. Instead, my business clients had dried up. I was selling something they didn’t want: hard work and personal responsibility through healing their chronic pain with holistic medicine. I didn’t have the magic pill and I couldn’t deceive them as if I had. So they left.
I fought against the dissolution of my business until I couldn’t deny it: they weren’t coming back, I couldn’t recover here and my life’s purpose was fading away. I needed to contribute to my family more than I had in the last few years so here I am teaching high school.
I cried almost every day for the first 1-2 months of teaching. I was able to make it home before I did. Some teachers don’t hold it in so long: they burst out into tears in the break room, in their cars, they cry themselves to sleep, if they sleep at all. They grade papers, make lesson plans and try to keep up with student paperwork in lieu of time spent with their spouses and children. I struggled as well. At about 2 months in, I was only crying 2x a week and had committed to bringing work home only during mid-terms, everything else would be done at school during my planning periods. This meant I would excel in curriculum planning, teaching students and responding to their ability to understand the coursework and I would hack absolutely every thing else.
“I’m sorry Chris, I hate to have to tell you this, but the client gave me this feedback and I thought I’d pass it onto you,” he said. This was in my early years of teaching and presenting in front of an audience, mostly adults. I have the gift of a young Asian face but I also knew my material like the back of my hand. So his comments were biting. “The audience mentioned that though you knew your topic, you were dressed too young for the crowd.” From then on, I have vacillated between dressing much older and stuffy, in a way that was super uncomfortable for me, and dressing youthful and playful as a much better reflection of who I felt like, in an effort to either gain respect from my audience or give them the proverbial middle finger.
Here I am, 20 years later teaching high school. Kids have changed since I was in high school. Much more savvy, so much more bold. It took me 4-5 weeks to gain their trust and rapport and we’ve covered lesson units that are informational and somewhat rote, like the definition of depression and the biological effects of alcohol. All of this leads to the ultimate high school lesson: Sex Education. Even I was nervous.
“You always have a great way of explaining things making it not too awkward.” “You are a wonderful and great teacher!” “This is actually a useful class.”
It’s midway through the semester and I feel a sense of purpose.