According to the kid with the glasses on Jerry Maguire, bees and dogs can smell fear. So can children. This forgotten fact would’ve come in handy when I started my first job as a teacher.
Walking in on the first day of school, I thought I had it made. Traditional teacher outfit complete with wooden necklace and school bus sweater, check. Name on the blackboard in perfect penmanship, check. Sugary sweet Disney princess voice, check. I eagerly awaited their arrival, poised and perky at the door. And then they rounded the corner. Beads of sweat popped up beneath my nose. The school bus on my sweater suddenly had to navigate around the puddles in my armpits. My voice turned dry and scratchy, quickly jumping from Ariel to Ursula.
“Hi. I’m Mrs. Reaves,” I croaked, extending my hand to the first student entering the room.
“Whatev,” the student responded, ignoring my hand and shuffling to a seat in the back row. His pants shimmied closer to his ankles with each step.
During my preparation for the school year, I had forgotten to analyze the difference in today’s youth. Gone were the days of t-shirts with puff-painted kittens and matching scrunch socks. These kids sported low-cut tanks and pleated skirts that rivaled those of Playboy bunnies. They walked the halls with iPods in their ears and cell phones in their pockets and spoke in crazy code languages.
“TTYL, Ashley,” a thin blonde said to her friend while hovering at the entrance to my room. She glanced quickly in my direction and then turned back to her friend. “OMG, are you checking this out? NFW am I ever getting old. Tragic.”
“Hi. I’m Mrs. Reaves,” I tried again.
“Sarah,” the blonde shook my hand as if she expected me to kiss it. “Nice sweater.”
“Oh, thank you,” I chirped. “I got it especially for the first day. I remember my high school English teacher had one just like it, and I always wanted”
Sarah stopped listening and strutted towards the boy with the saggy pants.
“What a lame-o,” she chuckled. “This semester is so going to be cake.”
“Fo, sure,” saggy pants confirmed.
I took a deep breath to try to shake off her insult. “Don’t let them know you are threatened,” I reminded myself. “Confidence is key.”
“Is this Junior English?” a short, scrawny boy asked.
“Yes, it is!” I beamed. Finally I had a student who was willing to engage in a conversation. “I’m Mrs. Reaves.”
“I’m P.J. Marshall,” he squeaked. “Do you know how to speak Elvish? My last teacher didn’t, but I think it should be a requirement. After all, The Lord of the Rings is a very important novel. Are we going to have homework or will most of the assignments be given in class? I’m okay with homework as long as you explain the directions and your expectations clearly. Some teachers don’t, and then they can’t explain to me why I got a 96 instead of a 98. I hate that.”
His stream of consciousness made me dizzy. Perhaps it was better when they didn’t speak to you at all.
“Do you have assigned seating?” he continued. “I prefer to sit in the front row in the center. That way there is nothing to distract me, and I will be close to your desk so that you can clear up any questions I have during the semester.”
“Lucky for you that seat is open,” I shuddered.
P.J. made his way to his seat, his oversized backpack nearly making him topple over.
“Hey, P.J.,” saggy pants shouted while throwing a piece of wadded up paper at the boy. “You going to ruin the curve for us again this year? Maybe you could tutor Sarah. She told me that she thinks you’re hot.”
“STFU, loser,” Sarah grunted while punching saggy pants in the arm.
The rest of the students entered the classroom in packs. One group seemed to be pulled directly out of the movie Dangerous Minds, only I’m no Michelle Pfeiffer. The others matched every stereotype of a John Hughes film. Each pack barely acknowledged my existence, except for those who joined P.J. in the front row, already engaged in a full Elvish conversation.
The bell rang loudly, signaling the start of class and my imminent failure at this new career. I might as well have been facing a swarm of bees.