Thursday, August 30, 2012

my first year

I suppose since my position on the pay scale claims that this is my second year of teaching, I can't actually claim to be a first-year teacher. I did spend an entire calendar year teaching my k-babies how to hold pencils and count, but this is a whole different ballgame. These kids are less likely to pee their pants, and more likely to fail state testing if I turn out to be a fraud. The stakes are higher, the hours are longer, and the paycheck is better (although rent is far from free). This is my first official teaching job, in my opinion, and I want to document everything so I don't forget how I'm feeling right now, in two weeks, at Christmas.

It's shocking to me that we're wrapping up the second week of school. What happened to all those days I spent reading random books from the library or organizing all my plastic bins with my grandma? How is it that I've already lived in California for an entire month? I already have a driver's license and license plates. I have a most-frequented grocery store and favorite farmer's market. I don't need google maps to get me around town anymore.

As each day goes by, I write blog posts in my head about what life is like here. I have one about dating my city, one about why I deleted my facebook, and one about kids who already hate me; however, every night when I get home, I can't muster up the energy to type them out. I leave school around 7, sometimes 8, come straight home, make dinner to the best of my ability, and promptly fall asleep on the couch. Around ten I stumble to my room and try to fall asleep in my bed, but by then my mind is just rested enough to want to consider what types of vocabulary activities would be best the next day. I remember when I got my first job waiting tables, and I used to be up all night rehearsing how to write the orders on the order tickets. Now, I'm up all night trying to figure out why one class seemed to understand pronouns while the other one didn't.

All that to say, I've only written one post since the school year started, and I know I'll look back on these few weeks and wonder how I managed to get through them. Teaching is hard. I put in a lot of work, and my reward is thirty kids shooting lasers at me with their eyes because they just don't care about the difference between third person limited and third person omniscient. Sometimes they get so out of control that I'm shaking with fury as I order them as far away from my room as possible. And sometimes they borrow my favorite book and come back the next day having read the whole thing and wanting to know which faction of society I think I'd be placed in if I lived in that particular dystopia. 

It's one of the biggest emotional roller coasters I think I've ever experienced. Yesterday, I locked my door and cried for half an hour. Today, my disaster class was actually pretty controlled while I was being observed, and I felt a small taste of victory. I know today was only day nine of being Ms. Raasch, but so far, I can say with quite a bit of confidence that even with the hangups and train wrecks, I'm still really glad I'm a teacher. Despite the fact that I work quite a bit, I still don't feel like I'm going to work in the mornings. Seeing my biggest problem child successfully identify 50 different words' parts of speech makes being called a racist the day before not so significant.

Sometimes I still feel like I'm playing some kind of teacher game. It blows my mind that I'm the one the parents email when they see their kids are failing or that nearly a hundred a fifty students identify themselves as mine at some point throughout the day. I can't walk from my classroom to the office without being ambushed by "where are you going?" and "do you need me to do anything for you?" and "yo Ms. Raasch, do I gots to come to class?" I met a parent today and got to tell her that her son has had some trouble paying attention, but that today he was phenomenal and did all of his work. And I get paid for that.

Hopefully next week I'll manage to write down more stories so when I look back on my first year of teaching, I'll be able to remember exactly how much I hated and loved it at the same time. But right now, it's 10:30, and that's way past my bedtime.

Monday, August 20, 2012

i wore a sweater vest

My junior and senior years of high school, I had the same English teacher. A lot of students in the school purposely avoided having him (mainly because of the dreaded "senior project"), but he was absolutely, no questions asked, my favorite teacher. In elementary school, I used to say I wanted to be a teacher because I'd never really seen many other professions in action, but I can say with confidence that if I'd never had Mr. Ahlm, my major would likely have stayed resolutely away from the education department.

Every day I saw Mr. Ahlm at school, he had on a different tie and a sweater vest. On the off chance I saw him out in "the real world," it blew my mind to see him in a t-shirt. My English teacher wore sweater vests. End of story.

So today, when I officially became an English teacher in a regular American classroom, I wore a sweater vest.

I don't have enough to continue with the trend; in fact, I went to Kohl's on Saturday night in a panic hoping to buy more vests for my first week. Alas, today will be my only sweater vest day for a while. But that doesn't make me any less of an English teacher.

The past few weeks have been a blur of meetings, curriculum planning, and IKEA runs. As I said in my last post, it's weird knowing that I live here, and that I likely will live here for at least a few years (five years and I qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program; seven years and I qualify to be a hipster). Today, however, all the chaos and stress and late-night planning came together, and I got to introduce myself to 143 kids as their teacher.

It's going to be rough. I can already tell my third block class is going to secure my spot in a mental institution, and my sixth graders feel like slightly taller kindergarteners in their desperate need to please. One of my kids couldn't remember my name today and called me "Mrs. Racial," and another one gave himself papercuts to try to get out of class.

But then...

Then there's the little dude who said he likes to "write his heart out" at home. And the girl who asked if she could borrow books from my library even though she's not in my class. And my fifth block class that cheered when I told them what books we're reading this year. I laughed out loud as a kid tried to convince me that Batman takes place in LosAngelesNewYork instead of Gotham City, and I took a picture on my phone of the questionnaire response that said I might be his new favorite teacher. I let the whole class borrow books from my bookcase, and when I turned around, they were all quietly reading even though I had told them they could talk.

It's going to be hard; there's no question about that. But I've never been more excited to go to work, and that's saying something. Of course, there is the added bonus of securely knowing that I'll be able to pay all my bills every month for the next calendar year, and that I have mediocre health insurance in case I decide to play in traffic after third block one day. I also finally, finally, found a church home this past weekend, so I'll have friends here starting September 9 (stupid small groups being on break for the summer). It seems California really is home for now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

someone else's apartment

Even though it has all my stuff in it, this apartment doesn't quite feel like home yet. I feel like I'm housesitting, like I'm visiting a friend who happens to never be home when I'm here. It's like someone else lives in this apartment, someone who likes all the same books I do and has a stack of Korean ramen in the pantry. Someone who wears the same size clothes as I do and has a picture my nephew finger-painted. I recognize this stuff, but it doesn't feel mine.

I guess maybe I'm too used to living out of a suitcase. I'm used to borrowed spaces and carefully chosen memories; I'm used to temporary, simple, sparse, uncomplicated.

But here, I have all my stuff. I have clothes I haven't worn in years that I didn't even remember I had. I have an entire fridge to fill with foods I like (even though it currently has only taco shells, colby jack cheese, and chocolate milk). I have pictures on the walls of everything I've ever done that's made me happy. I live here.

Everywhere I've lived in the past two years has felt more like an extended-stay hotel than a home, and I can't seem to wrap my mind around the permanence of this move. I can buy a huge picture of the Brooklyn Bridge if I want to because this living room is mine. I can put a single pan in each cupboard because I don't have enough things to fill an entire kitchen myself. I can get a driver's license with my address on it because this is the only address currently associated with my existence.

I'm still waiting for this all to feel real. Maybe when I start making friends I can invite over, or when something breaks and I have to figure out how to fix it myself. Maybe it'll be when I get a dog that's registered under my name or when I have to argue with the cable company over my bill. I just don't feel like this is my actual life. It feels too grown up, too stable.

I'm not saying I'm unhappy; just baffled. When did I get to be a month away from turning twenty-six? How did I end up with a job that enables me to afford an apartment like this all to myself? Who decided it was a good idea to sell Graeter's at the grocery store when there's no one to monitor my eating habits? I feel like just last week I was trying to understand how my shower worked in a foreign country, and now suddenly, I'm living in a parallel universe where I have a microwave and a lease with only my name on it. 

Sometimes I'm afraid I might wake up and still be heading to work in Cincinnati, my greatest accomplishment being that I memorized the Dewey Decimal System without being asked. If you had asked fifteen-year-old me what I'd be doing in ten years, never in a million years would she have guessed this. I wish I could go back and write her a little note, tell her to hold on tight because life is going to go places she'll never imagine. And one day, she'll be sitting in a little apartment in California, and the only thing she'll know for sure about her life is that it's awfully blessed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


According to my temporary driver's license, I am officially a Californian. Tonight marks my one-week anniversary in the Bay Area, but I find myself feeling just as foreign here as I ever did in Seoul.

The thing is, in Seoul, everyone knew I was foreign. If I got in the wrong line at the post office? Whatever, she's white and can't read the signs. If I stared at the bus routes while six buses passed me because I couldn't figure out which one I wanted? No big deal, she's just trying to sound out the names of the stops. If I totally screwed up restaurant protocol and mistakenly ordered a sock instead of a dinner? It's kind of cute; the foreigner thinks she knows what she's doing. It was expected that I'd make incredible mistakes on a regular basis, and I actually had a blast laughing at myself.

When I announced I was moving to Cali, nearly everyone agreed that this would be much easier than moving to a new country. After all, the language, the currency, the alphabet, and the fast food restaurants would all be exactly the same as Ohio (with the exception of In-N-Out burger and its unnecessarily complicated secret menu). Unfortunately, I've stumbled across some subtle differences that make me feel like I might as well be wearing a t-shirt that says "I most certainly do not belong here."

It's just little things, really. Like when the girl at the grocery store pushed my cart out to my car and helped me load my bags into the truck, I asked her if I was supposed to tip her, and she kindly told me she couldn't accept tips but was just trying to be nice. I felt like an idiot for even asking. Then today at the DMV, the clerk asked for my passport to apply for a new driver's license, and I hadn't even considered that she might want to see that. After waiting for an hour to be helped in the first place, I had to drive home and get my passport, and by the time someone could get around to helping me when I returned, it was too late to take the written driver's test.  The clerk told me I'd have to come back another day to start the process over, and I must have looked like I was about to cry because she changed her mind and let me take it anyway.

Multiple times throughout the day, I find myself feeling about two inches tall as I realize that things aren't done quite the same way here. Thus far, I haven't done anything law-breaking (to my knowledge), but the menial things I just can't get right keep me feeling resolutely in the "out-of-state" camp. In Korea, it was obvious I didn't quite belong and I was stumbling my way through everything. Here, I feel like I'm simply too dumb to complete basic tasks.

If I haven't mentioned it recently enough, I miss being in Seoul. But tonight after making a fool of myself at the DMV, I made soup in the microwave (because I have one!), sat on my couch (because I have one!), and watched a movie on my tv (because I have one!). I suppose once I get to the other side of that ominously steep learning curve, life here won't be so bad.

Having the amazing city of San Francisco a thirty-minute drive away helps quite a bit too. Courtney and I took the ferry over on Sunday morning, and we chatted with some of the most delightful people I've ever met. A Chinese woman who knitted Angry Birds hats, a man selling surprisingly difficult wire puzzles, a hippie photographer who invited me to let me stay at his commune up north whenever I'd like, and a cab driver who offered to pick me up at my apartment any time I wanted a chauffeured ride into the city. I bought some melted wine bottles for my apartment and Courtney stole a set of chopsticks from the best dim sum restaurant in the state before we sat along the water, contemplating whether the Golden Gate had been photoshopped onto the skyline. I'd seriously consider becoming a panhandler if it meant I could spend every day in that city. And oh the languages! One of my favorite things about being in Korea was being surrounded by words I couldn't understand. In San Fran, I swear I heard a dozen languages in an hour. I love knowing I'm smack in the middle of a ton of different cultures, yet for that moment, we're all experiencing the same thing (man, I'm sounding pretty hippie already, huh?).

This post totally derailed from where I had planned for it to go...

... but isn't that the way life is sometimes? And it's those unexpected turns that end up taking you where you never knew you wanted to be.