Wednesday, October 17, 2018

There and Back Again

January 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Bras & Boots, Most Recent Posts

It was the week before Christmas break and I had finally gotten the call. I was beginning to think that all the paperwork, the fingerprinting, the money, had been for nothing. But now, here I was, driving to Jefferson for my first day as a substitute teacher. As I drove, I thought about the call. What an awful job to have. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to wake up people to offer them a one-day gig. And what is the response to being asked what you do for a living? Oh, well, I am the substitute teacher caller. That just sounds awful. Maybe schools have some fancy name that makes it sound more exciting.

I pulled into the parking lot. My hands were ice despite the heater running full blast for the thirty minute trip. There were a lot of reasons to be terrified. First, I wasn’t even sure if this was the right place. It is hard to be cognizant enough to ask for directions when woken from a deep sleep. And it seems to me that everyone else has spent their entire lives in this tiny corner of northeastern Ohio, the names of towns spill from their lips as if they are naming relatives. I told the sub caller I was coming from Geneva and she rattled off a bunch of roads that sounded more like a geometric proof. I pretended I understood because she sounded like she wanted off the phone. Who knows how many more wake up calls she had to make. Besides, I didn’t want to sound completely dense.

Next: Had I chosen the right clothing? I had agonized in front of my closet as long as I could spare before I had to get on the road. All of the clothes I had spent months collecting now seemed horribly inadequate. Black pants seemed safe enough. But were they too tight? Too long? I suddenly had no idea. The light green and cream flowery top had seemed like a good choice 45 minutes ago. But maybe it was too…too what, I didn’t even know. I had not done any kind of bend/dip/dodge test in front of the mirror. Oh no. What if I bent over to see a student’s work and the shirt gave in to the affects of gravity? Suddenly, little innocent Johnny would be face to face with my tits. Oh dear Lord. And the offending shirt would probably scoot right up my back to reveal the tip of my polka-dotted thong and my lower back tattoo. Of course, the child behind me would not be nearly as innocent as little Johnny. He would probably point and screech “Hey, is that a tramp stamp?” loud enough to be heard in the principal’s office. I believe I would have turned my car around right then if I wasn’t counting on the hundred dollar check that would be mine in a few hours. I might just not move from behind the safety of the teacher’s desk all day.

I skipped to the end of my mental freak-out list as I entered the school. The most nerve-wracking: I had never dealt with first graders before. All of my training and classes had been aimed at educating high school aged students. The youngest I had dealt with had been two sixth graders for Teammates. My Educational Psychology professor had encouraged us to be part of Teammates. He had started the program to give his undergraduate education students an opportunity to spend some time with a child at school. My boyfriend at the time and I were actually paired with a couple of sixth graders to try to get them to interact with each other. We were the only partnered Teammates; things were fine until we broke up. Then our visits with the youngsters got a little awkward.

But two sixth graders are no comparison to thirty-something first graders…

I found my way to the office and gave the secretary what I hoped looked like a smile, but feared resembled more of a grimace.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

Oh, no, I thought, I must not look like a teacher if she can’t tell why I’m here.

“I’m here to sub?” I don’t know if I asked this rather than stated it because I was nervous or if it stemmed from my time in South Dakota. Mid-westerners have been known to have entire conversations in question format. Maybe it sounds more friendly?

“And who are you today?” This was the first time I was asked that, but I hated it even then. What do you mean, who am I today? I am ME! Just like every day! No matter what school, grade, day, always “and who are you today?”

“Uhhhh…” Uh oh. I was supposed to remember the name? I thought they would already know. I would just walk in, say my own name, and be taken right to the room. “It’s for first grade?”

“Oh, you must be Miss Burke then.” She handed me a name tag and told me a room number. As she pointed me in the right direction, I made a mental note to remember the teacher’s name next time.

I walked into the room and passed the rows of itty bitty desks. Had I really once been small enough to fit in those chairs? Miss Burke’s desk was buried in heaps of papers. I slipped into her chair and picked up her note to me.

Welcome to my room J

Is there a special class where teachers learn to write like that? A special teacher’s font? Maybe it’s a prerequisite for going into education. I read through the note as many times as I could, hoping it would stick enough that I would feel comfortable by the time the bell rang. I took a deep breath and waited.

I sat straight up in my bed, jarred from sleep so fast that I wasn’t sure exactly where I was. I apparently moved so fast that I frightened my dog. He leapt off the bed, barking at some imagined intruder. He had probably been dreaming, too. “Shhh, Buddy, it’s okay, it was just me.” I rubbed my eyes and wondered what had made me dream about that first day of subbing. I had spent nearly two years as a substitute teacher, but it had been two years since I had been in a classroom as a teacher. Iraq had gotten in the way. I would have had my master’s degree in education last year if I hadn’t volunteered for the deployment. At the time, I thought it was important to deploy as a platoon leader before ending up in charge of an entire company. I certainly wouldn’t respect a commander who had never been over there. But now, as I face student teaching, I don’t know if the deployment in the middle of the master’s program was the best idea.

Maybe that’s what had spurred the dream. The fear that I held that first day is returning. How am I supposed to teach when I can’t remember how to write a lesson plan? State standards, what are those? But if I could survive a year in Iraq, I could certainly survive student teaching…right?
Buddy’s tale thump-thump-thumped on the bed as I stroked his shiny black coat and I thought of Iraq and my first mission.

I returned from leave to take command of a new platoon, a new job. For the first seven months of the deployment, I was the maintenance platoon leader. Other than my single training mission, leave had been the first time I had left Camp Taji. But now, as a line platoon leader, I would be running missions across Iraq. My soldiers were well-versed in these missions, since they had been running non-stop the entire deployment. Somehow, I had to be in command while learning on the fly. I was more than a little nervous.

But maybe I was nervous because of the mission I had been sent on to learn the process. Things did not go well. In fact, we didn’t actually end up going at all the first night. The radio had gone down in the truck that my fellow lieutenant and I were riding in. We tried to scramble out of that truck and into the stand-by truck as the gun trucks were counting down the seconds. They were not going to miss their SP, with or without us.
Getting out of the truck was not an easy process. I was trapped in the backseat, loaded down by what felt like multiple turtle shells: the vest, the helmet, the elbow pads, the knee pads, all of that constricting movement. Plus the full combat load was weighing me down more than I was used to. Two hundred and ten rounds were a lot heavier than the single magazine that I had been carrying around on Taji. Getting in and out of the truck was never easy in all that gear (I usually ended up swinging out, clinging to the bar, and hoping I didn’t slip as I slammed into the side of the cab, before clambering down the steps). The added stress of knowing we were about to be left behind did not make getting out any smoother.

Somehow in all the confusion, the other LT (you know, the one who was supposed to be teaching me how to do this shit!) managed to get his M4 run over. In my imagination, I picture him setting it down right in front of the HET (heavy equipment transporter, big ass truck created to haul tanks) and proceeding to ground guide the truck over it. I know that’s not really how it happened. I mean, it was dark and we were trying to rush. BUT, every, and I mean EVERY soldier knows to never, EVER put a weapon on the ground.

We did end up going on the mission two nights later, but missing the first time did not leave me with a warm and fuzzy. Of course, I should have been happy. He had set the bar pretty low; I certainly wasn’t going to run over my own weapon.

A thwap across the face from Buddy’s tale brought me back. He has the most evil tale I have ever felt. I can’t believe that he doesn’t squeal when he accidently hits himself in the face. I climbed out of bed and Buddy raced to the door and back to me and back to the door, again and again until I had closed the distance and his tale repeatedly beat against my leg as I fought the lock on the door. “Geez, Buddy, hold on. I can’t get the door open if you don’t move, you big galoof.” I’m not sure exactly what a galoof is, but Buddy certainly must fall in the category.

Our morning ritual of him exploring the yard while I freeze on the porch has become quite the time of reflection for me. Teaching and soldiering had begun to swirl through my mind, mixing together to form something new, like some kind of chemistry experiment. I hated chemistry. My thoughts led me on a strange trail, one that showed me maybe Iraq was not quite as challenging as substituting.

As a platoon leader, I had the full support of my soldiers. We were on the same side. No matter what. Students, on the other hand, are usually on the other side, across enemy lines, united in force against their substitute teacher. I never had to attempt to teach the enemy in Iraq, never had to mold their minds with lessons on the alphabet or multiplication.

And at least in Iraq, I was well armored against the enemy, with all that protective gear that bogged me down, plus I was sitting in an up-armored cab, with layers upon layers between myself and the enemy. Classrooms do not provide that kind of protection. I remember one day where I nearly missed getting the students to the buses on time because one boy chose the ringing of the end of the day bell to hit a fellow student in the face. There was nothing to protect me from them or anything to protect them from each other.
I had no idea what I was supposed to do that day. Substitute teachers do not practice battle drills. The what-if scenarios covered in education classes are about what to do if students do not understand material. They are not much help when it comes to students punching each other as the bell rings. The military would have an exact battle drill for the situation and I would have been able to perform my duties without hesitation; it would have been drilled into my head so thoroughly.

There is a major difference in the food, too. School cafeteria food is just about as un-motivating as it gets; a single slice of slimy pizza seems to be a daily staple. DFACS in Iraq, however, have Baskin-Robbins ice cream. The food may not have always been incredible and there were times when we would go several weeks of eating chicken wings every day, but there was always a scoop of Oreo Cookies and Cream waiting if a boost was needed.

Of course, it wasn’t all gravy. I remember being completely terrified on the Hershey Bypass. The narrow lane was crowded on both sides by HESCO barriers, with multi-level houses so close that I thought for sure there had to be guns pointed at us from the windows. I didn’t know which way to look because everything looked so threatening. By the way, I was incredibly disappointed when I found out there was no chocolate involved in crossing the Hershey Bypass.

Buddy came charging up the stairs, letting me know he was ready to get back inside the toasty warm house. He has been such a help with transitioning back into the “real world”. His tolerance of my two pesky kitties reminds me of the tolerance that I need to have for people. Sometimes I find myself wanting to scream at people. “Don’t you know, I’m a veteran! I went to war for you! You can’t treat me like that!” But Buddy would never yell like that, even if he had the voice to do it. His brown eyes look at me with love, even when I yell at him for hitting me with his tale. I am sure that even the smallest creatures have something to teach us.

By Kelly McGoldrick

1LT, Ohio Army National Guard
1483rd Transportation Company
Deployed from 5 JUL 09 – 10 Jun 10


One Response to “There and Back Again”
  1. Scott Abel says:

    Fun story, Kelly! My wife of 24 years is about to retire as a K teacher, next year or so. Gonna be like 30 yrs in. She has to have a sub sometimes, and I’m sure she knows what you go thru. Just today she told me a story when I got home–how that they had a Coast Guard group come by the school, with a pretty good sized dually truck pulling an interceptor boat. They also had their drug and explosive sniffing dog with them to show. Each grade level got to sit in the boat and be shown around, as they gave speeches of their job descriptions, and how the various eqpt is used. They all had a great time, until.
    The kids filed back inside from the rather cold day (in the 30’s) got un-bundled again, and then it became evident. Somebody–no TWO of the kids found the dog poop to step in, and as it warmed-up–it got quite a bit sniffier in there! Then to top things off, after lunch one of the kids got diarrhea, and it was running down his pants leg. Ghastly! His momma told him not to go at school, because he didn’t know how to clean himself yet! Yep–poor Susan had to deal with that too, as the “Nurse” certainly found THAT to be completely out of her job description–like many other perfectly relevant daily tasks. So, poor ‘Ducky’ had a “shitty” day!
    Just yesterday, she was hoping the originally scheduled Coast Guard helicopter would not arrive, due to the cloud cover they said they would not travel in a populated area in. It was cold, windy and wet, so they sent the boat crew and the dog! Ha… Rank has it’s privileges.
    Just thought I’d let you know that the ‘little darlins’ are out to get you all! But, as you know–the job is worth it. God Bless you.

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