Budge started back to school Tuesday. She’s got a week of meetings, preparation, and parents before the new crop of fourth graders arrive. I’ve helped her get her room ready for six years now, so she and I went up to her school a couple of days last week to get stuff on the walls and set the desks in order. As much as I enjoy my time with Budge, I always get a little melancholy when I’m helping set up though because the only reason I’ve been able to help her is I don’t have my own room or library to get ready anymore.
If my life had worked out differently, I’d be starting my 20th year in education. I was a late hire taking over for a woman whose part-time job had worked its way into a full-time job at double the pay she made as a teacher. I’d pretty much given up on ever getting a teaching position by then. I’d been out of college for eighteen months and spent a mint on stamps and nice paper sending out my resume’ all over the state without so much as a nibble at a job.
Luckily, one of the boys I’d grown up with had a father who worked in the personnel department of Greenville County Schools. He dropped my name when that late position opened up and the principal called me in for an interview. When I got the call, I was at my job in a local textile plant soaked in an indigo dye. She wanted to see me RIGHT THEN. I asked her if I might go home and change first, but she was adamant I come STRAIGHT OVER. So I did — dyed skin, work boots, and all. I looked like a giant mutant Smurf, but after that seriously awkward interview, I was a teacher at Woodmont High School near Piedmont, SC.
I spent nine and a quarter years at WHS as an English teacher teaching mostly sophomores and seniors with a smattering of freshmen and juniors every now and then. At that time WHS was a pretty small school — about 625 students in 9-12 — so I taught several students more than once. In fact, I had three runs of students while I was there whom I taught 10th, 11th, and 12th grade English. At one point I started asking them for their Social Security numbers telling them, “I’ve been with you so long, I figured I might as well claim you on my taxes!”
I coached wrestling, a little football, and even a year of soccer. To this day, I have the best single season record at WHS in soccer — of course, they haven’t had another player like Bruno the Brazilian since my one season either. It was a good time and I enjoyed it. Then, some bad things happened. I let my mouth, pride, and ego write a check my ass, resources, and connections couldn’t cash. A six-week suspension and one school board hearing later, and I was doing time on the unemployment line.
I figured my teaching career was over. I’d never heard of anyone getting hired after being fired from another position. Providence had other plans for me though. My high school alma mater needed an English teacher on short notice and the principal and two assistant principals had been my teachers back in my glory days. They hired me without references and a week later, I was teaching English again in the same room where I was a senior in AP English . . . the job was welcomed but the memories were not.
I had an awkward year that year. Among other things, I discovered several teachers I’d thought were raging assholes when I was a student actually WERE raging assholes no matter which side of the desk I was on. If I’d had sense, I’d have stayed at LD55HS for at least a few more years to repair my resume, but I’d just finished my MLIS degree at USC and I wanted to be a librarian — the career I’d dreamed about as a child. So, when Laurens 56 posted a middle school librarian’s position, I leapt on it and got hired because the then-principal knew me . . . and, I found out later, I was the only applicant.
I worked five good years at Bell Street MS. Turns out later other people didn’t think they were so good. I revamped the collection, overhauled the computer lab, and got the parent calling system to work when the IT department couldn’t. I worked with the IT department every summer without pay to help them get caught up. I had a wonderful assistant named Chris, a terrific office, and a mural on my library wall I loved. Oh, and I broke my back for my teachers and administrators. Unfortunately, I didn’t know my broken back was also acting as a sheath for a couple of knives.
The simple story is the district shut a school and gave the librarian my job since — in the grand tradition of the union-less South — I was the last hired so the first to be let go. The IT department head offered me a job as a computer technician at a fraction of my teacher’s pay scale. Again, if I’d had sense, I’d have taken it, kept my mouth shut, and waited for better times. By then though, I was too far gone mentally and emotionally. Papa John hadn’t long died, I’d had my first trip to the mental hospital, and Mama was starting to decline as well. In the heat of emotions, I said some impolitic things to my principal, an assistant principal, AND the superintendent of the district. By impolitic, at least in the case of the superintendent, I mean, “You know what you can do with that f%&*ing iPad and I’ll be glad to help you!”
It did not end well. I finished the year on suspension, again, and that was all she wrote for my career in education. After six months of trying, I faced the fact that I was a broken man with way too many emotional issues. I applied for my SS Disability and I qualified. So that’s where I am now. The very last students I ever had any contact with are graduating this year. I knew them as 6th graders at Bell Street where some of them were my library helpers. As sad as it makes me, I know in my heart, I have no real chance of ever teaching or being a librarian again. My certificate expired June 2013.
Anyway, love y’all and keep those feet clean!