Kiss of Judas

My worst year of teaching started out as one of my best. After a decade of teaching, I had learned how to start a school year with high expectations, and it showed. Students started work even before the bell rang, I had issued only three demerits, grades looked good, and every day brought some magic. Then the principal asked me to stop by.

“Would you take a student teacher?” he asked.

And I did.

Jason watched me teach the first week.

“Not a problem,” he said, “I can do this.”

Well then, I thought. But my uneasiness with Jason grew. He didn’t ask questions or check student records or stay a minute longer than required each afternoon. I gave Jason more to do, and he did some of it, barely. Giving responsibility to Jason was like spooning food to a baby; it kept coming right back.

He tuned me out when I tried to talk with him. But he joked with the kids. And they liked him well enough . . . until I left my classes in his care for the required three weeks.

When I came back, they didn’t like him anymore. He didn’t like them, either. And I didn’t like him or them.

For the rest of that year, I tried to get my classes back. I called parents, talked with students, changed seats, offered rewards, taught with vigor. But the magic never came back.

One evening I thought it had. Four students showed up on my front porch. Just walking by, they said, and thought they’d stop. They thanked me for being their teacher, gave me hugs, and said they’d be on their way.

Bewildered, I closed the door, afraid to hope. Then I walked by a mirror and saw that, on top of my shoulder, one of them had pressed a menstrual pad.

Perhaps this kiss of Judas helped. I’m not sure. The general unruliness lost its edge.

And I’m not sure I handled this right. What I did was nothing . . . nothing, at all. I didn’t report to the office. I didn’t call parents. I didn’t talk to the four students, although they watched me with new eyes the rest of the year.

What I did was slog through to June with my head high. Then I started with fresh students in the fall, glad to begin strong with this batch and then let go later.

Start as a Scrooge and end as a Santa, I tell first-year teachers. The other way is no fun, at all.

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