The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.
It’s 2001. I’ve just graduated from the Ithaca College School of Music after what were, in retrospect, not the best years of my life. I have come to understand that much of what happened was less due to my inherent badness (I am not inherently bad) and far more due to not having the support of those who were tasked with teaching, mentoring, and guiding me. These experiences have formatively shaped my educational philosophy, and so in that regard, I learned a great deal about teaching from Ithaca, but perhaps not in the way it would prefer. That said, the music education program really is second to none, and my professors were by-and-large profoundly excellent artists, conductors, lecturers, theorists, composers, and performers, and I owe a great deal to them. I do wish, though, more people understood that being a professor doesn’t mean one can teach, and my standards for what “teaching” means and what a “teacher” is are astronomically higher than knowing and relating content. But, I digress. Suffice it to say, I needed better adult mentors in my life as I was growing up and becoming a modern adult than I had.
Consequently, at age 22, I had my head all the way up my posterior, and I took over the band program at the school at which I had student taught. I was now the sole instrumental music teacher for a small, very rural, very poor, very isolated school district in Western New York where I had been spent the last many months.
Firstly, 22 year-olds should not be teaching high school as their first job. I say this with fervent first-hand-experience conviction. To become strong pedagogues, and to develop their craft and their professional skills, young twenty-somethings fresh out of the chute should begin at elementary or middle school. If they don’t have a passion for pedagogy, for children, for learning, then they ought not to be teachers. Too many people fall too much in love with their subject and the idea of teaching, then immediately relish being back in the too-recent environment of high school and being the “expert” (HA) on the other side of the desk, and develop those same intractable traditional habits they so easily rallied against only four years prior. I had to deal with stresses and pitfalls, again without a mentor, in a hostile environment, and it was not a good match.
Secondly, no one should take a job where they student taught. It’s a terrible idea. You’re already too familiar with things and have no broader a set of experiences to draw upon by locking yourself in. Moreover, while you might think it will aid in the transition in “taking over” the program that you’re already a known quantity, in my experience, there are drawbacks that one can’t foresee that outweigh the transitional benefits. I should have had to look around the country, and consider my options, and then try something new, take a risk, and expand my experiences as well as my peer group. For a great many reasons, it would have been better for me to “see the world” a bit and realize that the options before me were not my only options.
Thirdly, this place was in the middle of nowhere. For reasons that would take a memoir and not a blog post to recount, I was living on Route 90 in a little town called Aurora, on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. (If you Google it, it looks beautiful and serene and lovely. It’s not, and that wasn’t the life I was living in any way. Aurora is a den of vipers, save for Wells College, which at the time was still a lovely and excellent little women’s liberal arts college.) Where I was teaching was up north of Cayuga Lake – I shan’t articulate where in this written setting – was even more remote, and required, at times, four wheel drive to access. Why?
Because Upstate New York is among the snowiest places in the country. Feet and feet of unplowed snow is not at all uncommon, especially going where I was going.
SO, I needed to trade in my 1993 Ford Taurus, which looked nearly identical to this one…
…for something with proper 4WD and enough room to haul around tubas and bass drums and such.
This is where some good adult mentoring would have come in very handy.
I went to a nearby used car dealership, and looked at a 1996 GMC Jimmy SLT, which looked nearly identical to this one…
…and man did I love it right away. Push-button 4WD, all leather, great stereo, just gorgeous. It was a bit more expensive than I’d planned, but I really felt like I’d gotten a steal.
It’s distinctly possible I got exactly that. A literal steal. Or a repossession. But either way, I got a total. A total, and a lemon. A total lemon.
I discovered this after a couple of months when the axles basically fell out of the car. After a bankrupting repair using money I simply did not have – I was in the red hugely and splitting cans of food to get through the days; I made nowhere near enough cover expenses and was putting in 16 and 18 hour days just to not get by – I went to trade in the Jimmy, hoping to recoup some of my inevitable losses. The gentleman who inspected the Jimmy gave it quite the look when I showed it to him.
“That’s a beautiful two-tone gunmetal-and-gray paint job,” he said. I nodded, and said something about how that was one of the reasons I’d bought it, spirits lifted that he seemed to appreciate it, and would hopefully give me what I needed for it. “I wish they’d made the ’96 Jimmy in those colors. But they didn’t.”
Using a small pen knife, he pointed out the paint runs and dried-drips on the interior of the door panels and along seams that are hidden by the closed doors, and pointed out that this is indicative of a paint job. So we did a tiny scrape to see what was beneath it.
One door was originally red.
Another was originally yellow.
One body panel was black.
Another was green.
Franken-Jimmy had been reassembled using whatever body parts the former owner could get, and upon running the title – which the guy did for free, because he was obviously feeling for my plight – he discovered it was totaled some time back. It was worth nothing. I got a thousand bucks for it out of the generosity of their hearts when I bought the replacement. I had to roll the cost of the Jimmy into the cost of the Jeep.
It took me nine years to pay it off.
I really could have used some adult mentoring. Don’t take that job. Don’t move to Aurora. Don’t buy that Jimmy. Definitely sue the used car dealership. So many things that, provided help, I might have changed, that could have changed the trajectory of my life for the better.
But the one good thing through all of this was the Jeep, which looked very much like this one…
A 2000 Jeep XJ “Cherokee” Sport. It was one of the most reliable cars I ever owned, and served me beautifully from 2001 until 2010.
It was the first, but not the last Jeep, that I would ever own.
Sometime I’ll tell you about Megaman, which you can read a bit about in a previous blog post, and about how my beloved Blue Bomber left my life not long ago.