Many women “of a certain age” began their career paths teaching school. A close second to motherhood, teaching’s the ultimate challenge combined with infinite multitasking.
Work your passion was the new mantra in my era! So I began my adult life as a school teacher because my four year college passion was the French professor at Northwestern whom I daily stalked (fortunately before the term equaled a felony.) Since teaching Spanish as well as French was the only way to get hired, I convinced a junior high principal that “Ay caramba, si, si, senor” of course, I “hablo muy bueno.” And as few real world jobs at that time required even “un poquito Espanol, or any Gallic terms beyond “Resume,” I implored squirrely seventh graders to “faites attention” to my “ooh la la’s,” and “c’est si bons.” Mixed with “adios amigos,” and “hasta la vista,” I often dismissed them early when I ran out of foreign vocabulary.
However, “La Tete du Departement n’etait pas amuse” and gave me a new “language arts” assignment of flunked parolees from Juvenile Hall. Their passion was to bulls-eye my eyeballs aiming paper clips from rubber-band slingshots. We compromised—class parties, my treat vs. classwork, my mistake, but a winning life lesson in self-preservation. They graduated to Street Gangs, and I was “promoted” to 8th grade art class.
The most I knew about teaching art was how to spell it which left innovation and imagination wide open. “Basic shapes,” I exhorted my budding Picasso’s as I hastily assembled a still life: a half-eaten apple from the previous class, a few frayed schoolbooks and an old gym shoe. “Space, lots of white space, for contrast” I instructed, and a lot less mess I silently hoped. Sprinkling terms like, “mass” and “perspective,” I thoughtfully peered at each smeary attempt. Leaving no time for questions, everyone earned an A for effort—especially me.
Hmmm, maybe I’d found my true teaching niche; no papers to mark, no tests to score, so no parents pushing for grades. I vowed to learn which two colors made purple.
I bought a smock, a nifty color palette with a thumb hole and a fresh apple.
“Time to clean up,” I directed at the end of a class; “let’s all scrub our tables, close up the paints and rinse our brushes.”
“Ya gonna make me?” came a sneering shout from the back corner. “I ain’t cleaning up all this crap.”
Stunned, the students and I both froze. Bad manners! Worse grammar! Unheard of Middle school mutiny? Authority still reigned supreme in the suburban ‘60s!
“Now, now…We must remember…good citizenship…prepare for…the next class….” I succumbed to shock and teacher-speak.
Before I fully recovered, a hippie clad, Amazonian female, fists braced, feet planted and face inches from my nose, spit out, “Try ‘n make me scrub anything, Teach, and I’ll push your face in!”
Mute and mesmerized, twenty four pairs of 8th grade eyes stared and waited for their teacher’s doom or deliverance. Ed Psych 101 had never covered this!
My heart skipped, but only one beat.
“Push my face in? I swiftly retorted. “Oh would you? How wonderful!” And I launched into a lilting monologue accompanied by sweeping gestures. “I’d like a little off here, see, where it’s beginning to sag…” I fluttered the back of my hand under my chin. “Now how about these crow’s feet? Maybe a little lift…there…” I said, stretching the corners of my eyes into a reptilian squint. “Oh dear, these lines, anything you can do?” I frowned; “my forehead’s positively pleated.”
The entire class earned extra credit as they cheered my snappy comeback proving they’d tuned into the recent face-lift craze. Then they laughed my deflated bully back to her seat. “Oh, you’re nuts,” she grumbled, “like some kinda crazy lady.” And she grabbed a rag on her way.
Disaster diverted, curriculum vitae expanded, as I acquired the only advanced degree that counted—Masters in Middle School Survival—along with the proud and lasting title of Crazy Lady.