Halfway into my first year teaching, I realized that my students and I had gotten to the point where we actually enjoyed spending time together. During my first few months, I’d started each day with a feeling of dread and can make an educated guess that my students shared the feeling. My students didn’t know what to expect from me and that was completely due to the fact that I didn’t know what to expect of them either. The first few months felt like an endless vacuum of ambiguity resulting in daily chaos.
But around mid-December, we started to get along. And by get along, I mean we could be in the same room together without one or the other shouting. Rather than sitting in the teacher’s lounge during lunch, I started sitting in the cafeteria with my students. I started developing a second grade sense of humor (I won’t describe this in depth because you can easily imagine the kinds of things second graders think are funny) and the words “good, bad, nice, happy, and uh-huh” became the limits of my vocabulary. I started to develop an interest in the High School Musical series. When I wasn’t at school, I dreamt, ate, and breathed in the language of lesson planning. Teaching, and more specifically, my students, began to consume me.
Before I knew it, I made the most dangerous teacher move you can possibly make. I started to think of my students as my friends. When driving home from school, I’d see something and all the sudden think, “I’m going to call Deaundre to tell her about what I just saw, I know she’d think that was funny.” Or, on a Saturday, I’d be sitting at home feeling bored and think, “I’m going to call Zaria, maybe we can go eat lunch together.” At the time, it didn’t occur to me that maybe it was alarming that I was 21 and didn’t have a life outside of second grade.
I think at one, quickly passing, momentary point in this December-January phase, I had a sudden realization that it could be a problem that my only friends were a group of eight-year-olds. And then I’d quickly push the thought out of my mind and go back to lesson-planning or watching High School Musical 2.
In February, though, I realized that perhaps I should pull back the reins and start sitting in the teacher’s lounge again. One day as I was sitting at lunch with my students I overhead a most peculiar conversation between Shaun, my student who envisioned himself as the Hulk, and Sam. It went something like this:
Shaun: “Man, Ms. Bowman ain’t married.”
Sam: “Yeah, I know. So what?”
Shaun: “I think she wants to marry a big, strong man, like the Hulk.”
Sam: “No she don’t. ”
At this point, Shaun looked at me, jumped out of his seat, and beat his hands on his chest in a Godzilla-like fashion and eagerly asked, “Bowman! Aren’t I like the Hulk?” I pretended not to hear him and quickly turned around in hopes it’d look like I was scolding a student behind me for talking too loudly. No matter that I didn’t hear him, Shaun wasn’t deterred and the conversation continued.
Sam: “See man, you ain’t like the Hulk. And even if you was, Bowman don’t like you!”
Shaun: “Whatever. Well, I guess I don’t want no babies anyway.”
At this, my jaw dropped. I got up and moved away. My internal alarm of ‘this should not be happening and I’m incredibly disturbed’ was blaring and I wanted to crawl into the nearest corner. I was shell-shocked to say the least. I’d heard my students say some ridiculous things throughout the past six months, but this easily went above and beyond my expectations of crazy second grader thoughts.
Clearly, I needed to start sitting in the teacher’s lounge, stop trying to be the cool teacher, and make some friends my own age. I became less consumed with teaching and more consumed with trying to be a normal adult again. I threw out the High School Musical DVDs, pushed myself to call my mom or my one of my two friends, Amanda and Natalie, if I had something worthwhile to say (I still had a hard time on the making friends piece…thus I only had two), started running again, and began eating my lunch in the teacher’s lounge with other adults doing adult things, like watching soap operas.
My students didn’t stop saying routinely off the wall things, like, “dang, Ms. Bowman you look tacky today,” when I’d wear different color shoes and pants. And they didn’t stop asking incessant questions like, “Ms. Bowman, why do you eat all them leaves?” when I’d eat a salad. However, the mumurings of conversations with ‘Bowman’ and ‘marriage’ in the same sentence ended. Thank God. Shaun would still stand up once every week or so, bang his chest with his fists, and shout, “look at me, I’m the HULK!” But as long as he wasn’t proposing marriage, that was just fine with me.