On Teaching My First Day of High School

On Teaching My First Day of High School

My first day of school, I pulled into a crowded parking lot of Range Rovers and Audis. “Crap,” I thought. “They all drive better cars than me!” I stumbled to the entrance in a pair of heels because I wanted them to believe that I didn’t spend my summer galavanting across the city in sandals. I was dressed like an L.L. Bean model and weeped on the inside for the death of my miniskirts and comfortable, off-the-shoulder t-shirts.

(I have the face and height of a high-school girl, and though it’s been a couple of weeks, I still get asked if I’m a student. “No,” I think to myself. “That’s why I’m wearing this starchy button-up and pencil skirt. Duh.”)

When I got to the classroom, I immediately filled a mug with black coffee. “This will make me look like I fit in,” I convinced myself. I also made sure I was carrying a lot of important-looking notebooks and multi-colored flair pens.

When the students started filtering in, I got asked twice if I was the sub. What? This is the first day of school! I took deep breaths and reminded myself of my age and wisdom.

Whoever thought of that trick, “Just pretend like they’re all in their underwear!” was clearly not a high school teacher because I tried that and felt like a pervert; the thought of my face being plastered all over the news didn’t relax me at all. My students just stared at me with clueless looks on their faces. Some of them were smirking, and I knew they would be trouble.

One of the things I learned in my education classes was that I should always keep my personal life separate. Sure, they can know some of my hobbies and maybe a little about my family, but that’s it. These kids thought I went home at night and did crossword puzzles while watching Lifetime movies (half-true); I didn’t know what to say to them at that moment to make them see I was normal outside of their corporate-campus-sized school. I desperately wanted them to realize they could joke around with me and wondered how long it would take to achieve that. I considered how to introduce myself before the bell rang.

“Well, I live with my boyfriend.” Red light. I didn’t want them to tell that to their wealthy, Christian parents. “In my free time, I write for a popular blog about funny, dirty stuff.” Even redder light. They’d all go home and Google me. “You can call me Ms. S.” Perfect. Just the right amount of information; I’m unmarried and mysterious. In short, all they learned about me that day was that I’ve been in school for a long time, and I used to study pigs. I had become the world’s most boring biology teacher.

“How many of you watch medical dramas on television?” I asked after we read an article about translational ecology. Lots of them raised their hands. “I love Grey’s Anatomy!” one girl squealed. I was doing so well!

“Alright. How many of you watch ecological dramas on television?” I actually heard the clock ticking. “Why do you think that is?” These were not dumb questions! It had significance to what we were discussing! I tried to rile them up a bit. “So, none of you care about your environment?” Nope. No one had anything to say.

Who are these kids? Oh, that’s right. These are the state’s (and maybe nation’s) finest 10th graders; they are the top scorers on those standardized tests you hear about America’s students failing. They didn’t care what I was saying because they had symphonies to compose and sailboats to…sail.

My palms were sweating, and I was tripping over my words. They were whispering things to their neighbors. It was a nightmare. All I wanted to do was pull up a funny YouTube video to save me. (“Hey! Have you guys seen a Honey Badger?”) Meanwhile, my feet were killing me, and it was only first block. I managed to save myself by telling them to discuss with their neighbors, a proven learning tactic I learned from Vygotsky. (At least I think that’s what I did because I’ve stored that memory in a deep, dark place.)

A few days later, I whipped them into shape when I told them they were lucky I wasn’t grading their first written assignment because they all would have failed.

“This class is so hard!” I heard them whisper to each other.

Damn right, it is.


Heidi Thomasoni is trying to teach college-level biology to students who use text message abbreviations in their essays.

Photo from Zazzle.