Monday, April 14, 2008

The answer is: I Had A Big Lunch

Ooooh, to be an educator.

I know there are a lot of high-profile jobs out there, and a lot of careers that require "performing" and "being on stage," but there's nothing like the daily parading of teenagers through your life, hour after hour, to make you horribly self conscious (or, rather, to cure you of that).

I take some consolation in the fact that AT LEAST no one is publishing cartoon caricatures of me, meant to highlight my least favorable characteristics, on a Daily Basis, as Presidents of the United States--or candidates for which--learn to tolerate.

Nevertheless, in my years in the classroom I have endured questions about my wardrobe, my shoes, my complexion, my choice of accessories, the tone of my voice, and my habitual gestures and phrases. Not to mention my religion, politics, and private life. (Off Limits, People, OFF LIMITS! And, I like to think, not as obvious as the state of my skin).

Just ask any teenager to parody a teacher: It's not hard to act out the character of someone whose show you watch every day (except weekends)--someone who alternately talks, argues, jokes, cajoles, loses it, apologizes, waxes philosophical, gets emotional, lectures, rejoins, scolds, cheers, and any self-respecting teacher is likely to do during the episodes of his/her nine-month season. There is more material here than offered on the average Soap Opera. And this celebrity, the teacher? Ohhh, FLAWED. And Very Real.

I am now a Vice Principal. This means that in some ways, my life is much more Public. People--students in particular--tend to know where I am in a crowd. Parents acknowledge me and conversations are careful in my presence. Call me, to a certain extent, Buzz Kill.

But in other ways, I am less conspicuous. I don't command the attention of 100+ students per day as I used to as a teacher. In moments of desperation (spilled coffee on shirt, volcanic pimple on cheek, HIGHLY EMOTIONAL DAY), I could ostensibly limit undivided attention by Hiding in My Office.

But there could always be a Fire Drill to interrupt an otherwise Under the Radar Day: In which all students and staff evacuate to the field and look to their administrator(s) for guidance. For leadership. Or for permission to go back to the Regularly Scheduled Program.

I wasn't having a bad day today. I wasn't hiding anything (apparently). But I did know that when our alarm went off UNEXPECTEDLY that I was going to be giving directions to large groups at the very least. Yelling at 1000 students at the very most.

So I reflexively put my accordion-style key-holder bracelet on my wrist, grabbed my cell phone, pulled my First Aid Backpack equipped with Wheels for Rolling over BOTH shoulders (which made my dress ride up in back), and remembered to bring the Megaphone with me out to the field, where I marched around like a Big Dork reminding students to SIT DOWN and teachers to TURN IN their student rosters so we could account for every child's whereabouts.

At some point while we were waiting for Updates On Our Status, I walked past a small group of students and one had a question for me.

"I want to ask you, but they won't let me." She nodded toward her friends, crouched on the field so as not to actually Sit Down on the artificial turf in their too-short shorts.

"Well, who's in charge of YOU?" I prodded, curious, not interpreting signs leading me away from continuing this line of questioning.

The substitute teacher in charge of the class quickly hissed at the young lady, "DON'T ASK HER THAT QUESTION." Students around her were likewise shaking their heads.

I walked away, slightly confused, and also distracted from my main task: protecting the safety of my student body. Out of the corner of my eye and half listening, I watched the conversation among this group of students continue:

"That's SO rude."
"No! That's EVEN RUDER!"
"Just forget it...come on!"

And then came the moment of clarity. The moment of GREAT. The moment of acknowledging that I got the Fat Pants Box out of the garage because I have been eating too much and running too little. The moment of knowing that some of the looks I have been ignoring recently have all been based on the same wonderment...that this innocent student was the spokesperson for all the colleagues and neighbors and maybe even random strangers who have been wanting to ask...

I couldn't resist. When the "All Clear" announcement was made and she walked by me, I leaned over and offered, "I'm pretty sure the answer to your question is 'I had a big lunch'."

She looked startled, and chagrined, and laughed. And so did I.

But I went running later. I think I lost at least a week off that phantom pregnancy.

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