Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Student Teacher, Part 3

Early in February 1971, driving to the high school for my first day as a student teacher, I worried about a number of things: Was teaching really what I wanted to do with the rest of my life? Did I know enough to teach English literature to kids only four years younger than I? Was Miss Tygart some sort of vixen hungry for a student teacher to seduce? I worried, too, about the cost of commuting in my gas-guzzling Pontiac, which would burn a gallon of fuel to school and another gallon back.

The high school was low and long and made of yellow brick, its windows decorated with faded construction-paper snowflakes. Inside, the foyer smelled of floor wax, mimeograph ink and a slight hint of vomit. One of the secretaries walked me down the hall toward Miss Tygart's homeroom, past closed classroom doors from behind which came the noise of slamming books, barking teachers and the screech of chalk on blackboard. I put my hand on the knob and looked through the window into an unoccupied room save a solitary figure seated in a dark corner, partially obscured by the American flag.

"Excuse me. Miss Tygart?" I inquired.
Startled, the figure reached for a heavy wooden cane and struggling to her feet, stepped out of the shadow with slow, twisted steps, as if one leg was considerably shorter than the other, and with the trace of a grimace clouding her face. She was a diminutive woman with thick glasses and short, wavy hair just beginning to gray. She wore a no-nonsense white blouse and a long woolen skirt that ended between her knees and her corrective brown Oxfords, and no suggestion of jewelry or makeup.
"I'm sorry, I have a free period and I was just resting my eyes," she said in a quiet, formal voice. "Bit of a migraine, I'm afraid."
"Oh, please, sit back down," I offered. "I'll pull up a chair."

We discussed some of the details of my internship, and then I asked her about the coursework.
"We're reading 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens now," she explained. "Surely you've read it. The children are a bit unenthusiastic, as usual, but perhaps you'll be able to inspire them better than I."
"Ah, yes, 'Great Expectations,' " I said, as if recalling fond memories of the novel, which I had not read. "I'm a little rusty with that one and will have to reread some of it."
"Oh, I'll lead the discussion today, and you can take over for me tomorrow. You'll have the whole evening to refresh."

Sweat began to form on my back and the palms of my hands. I thought: "Great Expectations" is what, 550 pages? Maybe I should just get up now and run out the door. It's not as if she can catch me.

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