Autumn in Montreal. The sound was music to my soul. I knew that hook or crook, I would move heaven and earth to return in September.
And I did. This trip would be different from the last visit. The cool temps and sweater weather made me start packing a week early.
The fact that Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the East coast was not lost on me. I watched the weather reports anxiously checking and rechecking the weather in Montreal that week.
Finally, departure day and Florence had moved on…barely touching the Virginia coast. My thoughts are already in Montreal as I head to Amtrak for the first leg of my journey.
The best part turns out to be the Acela fast speed train that I have not ridden before. It is a beautifully shaped train, sleek and modern, arriving from DC to the big Apple in record time.
Montreal is a cool 65 degrees when I disembark. I immediately notice the Rock n Roll Marathon signs as I approach the hotel. Although I had a list of things to do leading up to my born day, I added this event to the top of the list pleased that I had arrived at the start of this fun filled Marathon weekend.
My hotel as it turned out, was located a few blocks from the Marathon site. And I was able to enjoy the free concerts, free health screening, free massages, free healthy treats….that came along with the Marathon.
The trip will forever be known as the “Walking Week”. I was somewhat familiar with the area as it also was the site for the jazz festival. What I didn’t know was I was very close to Chinatown, Old Montreal and The Port.
Even though at times I felt I was walking in a big circle, the pleasant weather, inviting shops, exquisite food smells plus the music from the Rock n roll bands made my days in Montreal enjoyable.
I knew when I looked at the caller ID. Before I even hit the decline button. I didn’t want to hear those ugly words come out of anyone’s mouth.
Of course there was a message …We got the report back today… You need to call. I hit the delete message.
Voicemail/caller ID/merge calls…all this technology designed to enhance phone communication sometimes works at cross purposes with Humans.
I think about how to dismantle this feature.
I pour some wine. Cut a pain pill in half. My jaw is still aching from the abscessed tooth. And promptly fall into a dreamless sleep.
The next day I call. No answer. I leave a message on the voicemail that no one ever listens too.
I continue with my day. Busying myself with all kinds of move related tasks. Dropping off clothes at a Baptist church clothes bank… someone will be happy with these cute dresses with tags still on them, shoes worn once still in the box, purses just like they came from the store paper wadded inside.
I think they call it a shopping addiction. I call it retail therapy. It seems to fill some void I have had this summer. But my new life cannot handle all this excess so I happily give it to the church.
Next stop Salvation army. Men just waking file out the door. One directs me to the office. The smell of urine and maleness is strong in the dimly lit hallway. The worker who welcomes me is genuinely happy to see me. I load her arms with comforters, pillows and almost new sheets. She thanks me warmly. I leave.
On to the hip upscale trendy part of town. Ironically, only a few blocks away from the seedy army of salvation. The owner of the upscale consignment shop greets me cheerfully. We have talked and she is anxious to see my wares…The mid century Swedish folding rope chairs I bought 20 years ago. They are worth $800 each. I have 4. They are in excellent condition. How much do I want for them. She is excited to have such a find in her little shop. She can see the dollar signs. Where do I sign. I just want to sell them and move on. They are a reminder of a time when monetarily my life was good but otherwise bad.
The phone rings. The caller ID flashes their name. It is their legal name. Not the familiar one. Too emotion engendering. I take a long deep breath.
I watch the squealing ancient coal cars scream past my car. I wonder what it would be like to disappear among those fast moving cars now. To be taken away from the insistent ring of this cell phone. Whisked away in a snarling, screeching mess of iron and steel. Destination unknown.
If you think the traumatic incident that occurred at the middle school was the end of my teaching career… Think again.
Teaching was a chosen profession for me. After I made the decision not to attend law school but rather pursue an undergraduate and graduate degree in my first love, English, I was not content to give up on this career that I loved so dearly.
Yes, I could always return to the paralegal arena which had finally become an accepted and even lucrative profession in the South. I even did a brief stint working for the government as a legal analyst, but it was not teaching.
I had traded students for case files, and despite the significant pay increase, I was not satisfied with my 9 to 5-is-it-lunchtime-yet cube existence.
I reasoned that if I could not teach at a public school, I could seek teaching jobs at community colleges and universities. My first college teaching position was at a major Virginia university. Members of the faculty saw me conduct a workshop at a middle school conference and invited me to interview for a faculty position .
I was hired after the interview, mere months after leaving my middle school position. Following that position, I was able to parlay my experience into jobs at several community colleges and an HBCU in Virginia.
Life as a contract professor or adjunct was interesting and challenging especially teaching freshman or adult learners. However, the pay and lack of benefits did not lend itself to the needs of a single parent.
I began considering reentry into public school. But this time up North. The sting left by the uncaring administrators at the middle school was still fresh
By this time, I had published 2 history books for young people , several journal articles, received several national fellowships, and taught in higher education so I easily secured an 8th grade English position.
The school was in a bedroom community of Washington, DC with a large Hispanic population. I enjoyed the school’s diversity and the nearness of the nation’s capital. Unfortunately, an unexpected illness caused me to end my tenure there, but once I recovered, I found another position in the largest and most influential county in Northern Virginia .
After several years in this county, I relocated to a sleepy litle town in the Northern neck of Virginia where I landed a position at both the local high school and community college.
This was my last stop on the teacher train and probably most memorable because of the faculty and students who welcomed me (an urban Black teacher) into their community and their hearts.
Officially retired now, and pursuing writing fulltime, I still dip my toes in the teaching pond…subbing at local school districts (my experience working at the local Gifted School will always be a fond memory of both talented students and dedicated educators) and conducting teacher training workshops.
When September rolls around, I still feel that excitement and air of expectancy heralding the start of a new school year
No longer do I feel anxious upon entering a school; instead I feel at home…looking forward to the interaction with colleagues…and facing a roomful of new, fresh faced, inquisitive students and the promise that Learning brings.
The TV ads have already begun. Happy, smiling children dancing, doing flips to Bruno Mars, tumbling out of school buses, Ready. Faces shining, eyes glowing, backpacks bulging, sharpened pencils/notebooks/calculators/jump drives/Ipads at the ready.
As a teacher, now retired, I have mixed emotions about this time of the year. Summer is not officially over and already the brick and mortar folks are on the band wagon gearing up for the shopping binge that takes place this time of year. True, many schools around the country have begun, but Virginia (Hampton Roads) opted years ago to delay opening until after Labor Day to give the student workers a chance to serve the last tourists visiting the area.
I loved teaching, my students and being in the classroom, but I also savored every day of my two month respite (as did most of my colleagues). The mental and physical stress of teaching coupled with low pay requiring most of us teachers to work a second job takes its toll on those in this noble profession.
Generally teachers have to return one or two weeks before school’s official opening to prepare for the onslaught of new practices, new personnel, new procedures. …this year you will have to write out an individual comment on the student’s report card if the student receives a D in your class…Huh?…You mean explain to the student/parent why he/she got a D…Duh?
In teaching, it seems everything old is always new again. That’s the thing about education, a forty year veteran teacher used to say… Gurl, if you stay in it long enough everything comes back around…just with a new name and some new research to back it up. I call this the pendulum swing theory…things were going pretty good (or bad ) and now they seem headed in the other direction.
My entre into teaching was a second career move. Having exhausted the paralegal field working with lawyers of all ilk… from Hollywood medical malpractice to Virginia Legal Aid, I was ready for a career switch. My options were law school (and suit up every day in the lawyer armor) or English degree. The choice was obvious.
During the mid 80s, teachers still had a measure of control over what happened in their classroom. I remember being given a course outline my first year and told that as long as I covered the material, I could be as creative as I wanted in the delivery to the students.
A year later, when I became Department Head, my principal, Mr. W told me during the interview, I had big shoes to fill as my predecessor had been on the job for 30 years. He looked at my size 9 foot and smiling said, I don’t think you will have any problem. And I didn’t.
Under his Joe Clark tempered with Old School cool leadership and the mentoring of other seasoned teachers, I flourished. The 10 years I spent at the middle school were certainly the high point of my teaching career. Not only was I able to influence the philosophy and practices of other teachers, I was able to teach I-love -you -one -day/hate -you -the- next hormonal 12 and 13 year olds, critical thinking and reasoning skills while improving their basic reading/writing skills. And also infuse their lives with some history and culture to strengthen their self knowledge. I was even voted Teacher of the Year * by my fellow colleagues. And appeared in a local television news documentary celebrating the teaching profession.
It was there that I wrote my first book buoyed by my students who wanted “to see a text about Egyptian mythology with faces that looked like theirs.”
All of that unfortunately, ended one day when a student, new to the school and upset because I had given the entire class lunch detention for misbehaving while under the care of a sub, jumped up suddenly and shouted I’m not serving any f###king detention… I’ma blow your mother F###king head off. And ran out of the room.
This incident of verbal assault signaled a pendulum shift in my own life. For weeks, I was stalked by this student even after he was finally suspended. At the insistence of the police officer assigned to the school, I took unpaid leave for the remaining few weeks of school. During this time, I found it necessary to seek medical treatment for stress, anxiety and debilitating insomnia as my bubbly personality and infectious smile disappeared.
Eventually, the case was bought to court (the school assigned police officer had filed a warrant against the student). Ironically, the state of Virginia, had just passed a law stating that verbal assault on a teacher was a crime. The judge sentenced the student to a juvenile facility and apologized to me on behalf of the Court for all that I had endured.
Unfortunately, the damage was done. Being inside a school no longer held joy for me …only anxiety. And for some strange reason, even though I was the victim of this crime, the school administration did not take my side. I think they just wanted me to let the whole thing go…after all the student hadn’t physically assaulted me.
But he had run to his locker to get something after he bolted from my class…perhaps a weapon.
..he had come to the school near the end of the year without records from his previous school and been admitted.
..he had assaulted a student in another neighboring school district.
…he had waited many days following this incident crouched by my parked car until he was chased away by security.
…He had taken away my career,my livelihood, my joie de vie…my love of teaching.
(To be continued…part 2)
Comments welcome. And thank you for Reading my Words.