Early in September, 1985, my guidance counselor dropped in on my freshman honors geometry class to give us a pep talk that amounted to "You can be anything you want to be. But please, don’t bother trying to apply to an Ivy League school from this God forsaken, backwoods armpit. The history of unremarkable SAT scores produced by this school has already marked you as Unclean to Harvard. Don’t bother trying prove you’re an "admissions-friendly" minority. Even if you’re the product of generations of incestual coupling within a rare strain of Blackfoot Indian, Dartmouth will have nothing to do with you. Now back to your discussion of The Compass and Safety In The Classroom."
I was disheartened. College, particularly an affluent Ivy one, was going to be my ticket out of the rural, impoverished hellhole I called my hometown. It was going to provide me with the opportunity to buy expensive luxuries, like food.
Alright, I decided. I’ll study hard. I’ll involve myself in so many extracurriculars I’ll have to clone myself to keep up (all the more challenging, given my general hatred of others). I’ll go to summer school.
The summer between junior and senior year I spent at a posh boarding school in a summer program for The Gifted and Talented. Gifted and Talented students are those who have excellent marks in school and parents with exceptionally large checkbooks. I’d like to believe I got in on merit though I know my dad "helped". I still remember his words of wisdom to this day: "Gun laws are things that happen to other people". Over the summer I studied all the subjects important to college acceptance: Advanced Biology, Creative Writing and Recreational Drug Use.
Things improved little, however, upon my return to school in the fall. I was pulled into the same guidance counselor’s office to be…debriefed.
"Now, Amanda, you may experience some problems as you integrate back into your normal routine. You may become frustrated by the fact that the other students you’re with are –", he began.
"Stupid, sir?" I said, cutting him off.
"Uh, less apt, I think. They haven’t been exposed to the same level of enrichment – ", he tried to continue
"Or their parents couldn’t read the directions on the back of the box of condoms. Can I go now?" And back to class I went.
I was livid. Educators are supposed to help plant the seeds of student growth. Then my mother reminded me that my guidance counselor had originally been the school’s driver education teacher and the only seeds this guy planted had been when he knocked up his students.
My guidance counselor had managed to shepherd me into a realm of bitterness and outrage. I carried these feelings past the usual adolescent angst. They would warp me into the woman I would become: a comedian and a high school English teacher. As a note to my guidance counselor, if you ever happen to stumble across this: you don’t get credit for Making Me. It took years of study, thousands of dollars in student loans and hundreds of kegs of beer to get me to where I am today. Oh yeah, and if you come anywhere near my 15 year old cousin again, I’ll glass you.
The profession of teaching, with its 5 a.m. wake-up, calls is not conducive to spending late night after late night running around from club to club in hopes of getting five minutes from somebody, please anybody – and more often than not getting stuck at the first club you go to, running into so-and-so from That Club and running up a $50 bar tab telling yourself that maybe now he’ll let you take the bullet on Friday. My period one students have stopped questioning the number of classes we have during the week with the shades drawn and the lights off.
"Betcha get a lot of material working here!" Every comedian with a day job gets that. People are convinced that their mundane existence is fodder for divine, comedic revelation. My co-workers don’t understand any better than anyone else. Sure I look forward to those moments where I enter my classroom to find that one of my more perceptive students has scrawled on the chalkboard: "Ritalin. It’s what’s for dinner". But for every moment like that, there’s ten others where the closest thing to humor all day was the kid who felt he could give a more convincing reading of the part of the Porter in Macbeth if we could wait until tomorrow so he could come in drunk.
For a while, I was also the Advisor of the Class of 2004. March and April were rife with Prom Planning Activity. This involved buying festive glitter balloons and fielding, "Ooooo! Who did you go to your high school Prom with?" "Ricky Prouty", I replied. Ricky was cool - the kind of guy who had multiple varsity letters and could form intelligible sentences. After stalking Ricky at every school dance since 7th grade, I found the courage to ask him to the Prom. Of course popular legend had it that I pinned him to a locker in between lunch and Chorus in front of all his friends leaving him no option but to say yes or get to know my field hockey stick intimately. I say history has distorted the facts: it was before lunch.
Why teaching and comedy? I had no choice; I was called to both. Like the priesthood without the furtive groping.
If I bomb the night before I have a whole captive audience the next day. I like to call that type of lesson planning "Laugh for the A (or Remember You Need This Class To Graduate)". In a world where I might have to miss an open mike because I have a stack of term papers to correct, that is just good time management.
The thing that I dread most is the idea of co-workers coming to see me perform. Sure that quip I made in the staff meeting about opening up a can of whup ass with my Super Soaker 2000 on hormonal students dry humping in the hallway like they were dogs in heat was hysterical. I’m not sure I need the guy who might get named department head hearing my five minutes on bondage.
Fortunately, I have tenure.