Chapter 1: Becoming A Teacher

I have no idea what I’m doing.

I have two Bachelors degrees and had a successful career for 5 years and I still have no idea what I am doing. I could retire tomorrow and live comfortably as long as the market holds so what am I doing looking at my name miss-spelled on a door to a classroom? There are three days before the school year starts and I have nothing to put on the walls. I have no idea what the curriculum looks like and the only person I met was my principal who didn’t remember who I was when I walked in. He interviewed me and hired me in the same day and seemed relieved that I could walk upright and form full sentences. His only concern was that this was a second career for me, no one seems to understand why I quit being a financial advisor to become a teacher.

They spelled my damn name wrong.

I hope that the phone works.

There is a ringtone but I don’t know who to call or what the extensions are. Looks like 0 will be my first attempt. On the other end I hear a haggard voice, “District Middle School 3, this is Deb how can I help you.”

“Hi Deb this is Scott Murphy, who do I talk to about getting the name on the door fixed? It was spelled wrong and I don’t want the kids to be confused.”

“Hold on one second.” She sighs and I get put through to my savior.

It’s voicemail, “This user has not set up an outgoing message.” BEEEP.

“Hi, this is Scott Murphy. I am sorry to bother you and I know you are busy but the name on my door was misspelled ‘Murray’ not ‘Murphy’ and I was wondering if someone could fix it to limit confusion for the kids on their first day. Thanks!”

I hope that went somewhere and hang up my phone.

I am not prepared for this; I have no idea how to decorate a classroom. I know what they should look like. I have sat in them for years and know that I should have posters and motivational cats on the walls. I know I should have a bulletin board. I have no idea where to get that stuff. What the hell was I thinking becoming a teacher?

I drop my box of books on my new desk and quickly realize that I do not have a chair. At least I have a desk. It looks like it may have sailed over on the mayflower but it has four legs and some drawers. It looks like my students wont have to worry about where they sit since their desks are attached to the chairs. I was afraid I wouldn’t have desks. This school was old when I was young. It has been closed for 5 years after they built the new middle school across town. The sudden population surge in the last two years has caused a frantic need for classroom space and they re-opened this school. They took the original name, Sally Ride Junior High, and changed it into a middle school before they slapped it up on the new building. We get the cast off building and currently no name. We are the fighting District Middle School 3s. We are the red-headed step-child of Island Grove. I want to say I hate this town but I grew up here and I had hoped when I moved to the city that I would never return other than to visit my parents on holidays. I don’t hate this town, your hometown gets in your blood and you can never get rid of it.

Island Grove is a big town outside of a small city. It doesn’t matter where it is because all towns like it look the same. It started out as a land grab and absorbed a few local unincorporated areas back in the 70s. It grew around a thriving downtown and shopping district that people still call quaint despite the fact it is rife with chain stores and coffee shops. They have a damn Apple Store; what is quaint about an Apple Store? The town as people think of it is prosperous and prestigious to the people who live in the area. No one at college had ever heard of it. The tradesmen and laborers who lived in the surrounding towns built Island Grove, not the founding fathers. Those tradesmen eventually made enough to build hoses within the town limits and live a comfortable life.

My dad was a plumber who moved us here when I was 5. He claims to have build our house and I believed him. What he meant to say was that he knew a guy or two and called in favors to have our house built on land we could barely afford for next to nothing.

Island Grove grew for years and then the 2008 market crash happened. Suddenly there were foreclosures as far as the eye could see and people began to wonder what would happen to the subdivisions that were sprouting up everywhere. Turns out that the people who managed to hang on to their house were so desperate for neighbors that they pushed through approval for a new developer, John Samson. Samson developed the lands while receiving nearly criminal tax breaks. He developed those well-planned beautiful subdivisions into low cost housing that was cheap and looked two steps up above a trailer park. The houses were all prefabricated and the truest sense of the phrase cookie cutter. At first the residents of Island grove were not too concerned about this but it became clear that Samson knew something others did not. The state had enacted laws that would allow low-income families to afford low cost housing at a subsidized rate. Samson was going to sell all those houses and the taxpayers were going to pay him to do it.   This population boom caused a huge surge in students. The old families and well to do did not want this riff-raff mixing with their kids and quickly re-opened the old schools that had been closed when they made the new education campus just outside of downtown.

I found myself looking for a job as a Language Arts Teacher in a job market that was flooded with Language Arts teachers. They don’t tell you this when you are in the education program but everyone K-9 is qualified to teach LA. The amount of general education classes you take is usually enough to qualify even the most inept educator to teach reading. That’s right, one of the most important subjects is the one with the lowest bar to entry. I found myself a grain of sand on the beach of reading teachers. I had filled out over 200 applications in 3 states and interviewed at 42 different schools over the last 6 months.

I had just about given up when my phone rang while I was at lunch. I would have ignored it but my ex-wife was sitting across the table from me and I was in a mood to piss her off. The haggard voice on the other end asked me if I was still interested in the Language Arts position and if I had time for an interview. I was and I did. He gave me a quick interview over the phone while my ex stared daggers at me. I was shocked when he asked me to stop by later that day for a second interview. As soon as I had the details I had second thoughts.

It is true; I had applied for a Language Arts position in my hometown. I had known they were opening up the old Sally Ride School. I had not considered they were going to ask me to work there. I went to an Ivy League University and Graduated near the top of my class in Business Administration. I was all set to be a CEO or as it turns out a Financial Advisor. Why would they think I should work in the Island Grove ghetto?

The school was exactly as I remembered it from playing sports. It was a dump. It looked like it was in the middle of being torn down and there was only 4 days until the school year was supposed to start. The secretary was absent. The entire office staff was absent. I walked around until I saw a light on in an office. It turned out this was the haggard sounding man who called me. His appearance matched his voice. He looked as though he had been trapped in this room for days and judging by the stack of take out cartons in the trash he may have been. He was about 40 pounds past obese and looked like he was somewhere between 30 and a stroke. He asked me to sit down and made some excuse about not meeting me while mumbling about where the time flew off too.

The interview was not about my ideas or my skills or even my thoughts on education. All Principal Griffin wanted to know was if I was qualified to teach middle school Language Arts and how quickly I could get a TB test and physical. I said I had them al ready to go since I had to get them when I was in the finals for a different job. The audible sound of relief in his voice made we sad for him. In less than 20 minutes I was hired and told to report to the District’s Headquarters tomorrow at 7:30 AM for paperwork and assignment. I walked out and it was surreal. I had a job, easy as that.

It was not that easy. It turns out the District Headquarters does not open until 9 AM. August is a hot month and I felt like I was a criminal casing the place as I sat in my car with the air running. I had already had my coffee for the morning and had nothing I needed to do. I chased the first person to arrive into the building. My eager excitement was a burden on the poor office drone that had no idea what I was talking about. It took me until ten before I was seated across from somebody who had an idea of what I was supposed to do. I then spent a grueling 5 hours getting paperwork completed, fingerprints taken, papers filed and question answered. By the time I final left and hurried over to District Middle School 3 to see if I could get into my classroom and get a feel for what I needed.

I was disappointed when the doors were locked. No one answered my knocks and though there were cars in the parking lot I could not find a single human being to let me in other than a little old lady who shook her head when I knocked on the window and pointed at the door. I was too new to let that diminish my excitement. I went home and packed a box full to bursting with books that would convince people that I was smart and well read.

Here I am finally in my room and all I have is a box of books and my name misspelled on the door. Turing around I notice that my phone is blinking with a message. I like the receiver and hit the button marked with a faded looking envelope. In my ear I hear my won voice, “Hi, this is Scott Murphy. I am sorry to bother you and I know you are busy but the name on my door was misspelled ‘Murray’ not ‘Murphy’ and I was wondering if someone could fix it to limit confusion for the kids on their first day. Thanks!”

God, I sound like an ass. Well at least I don’t have to worry about anyone else knowing that I have no idea what I am doing.


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