Sunday, October 18, 2009


There's nothing quite like being a first-year teacher to promote a healthy sense of humility. I guess it goes to show just how absurdly privileged my life has been, but the times I've had to settle for being merely mediocre at anything have been few and far between. And now there is teaching.

There are days when I feel entirely overwhelmed, like it's all one big act, just pretending to know what I'm doing and praying the kids don't see through me. No matter how hard I work, there's always more I could be doing, should be doing. I want to be extraordinary right away, and it frustrates me to no end that I simply can't be. I waver back and forth between feeling like a very competent, talented teacher and like I'll never be able to get to where I want to be. Truth is, those two aren't as mutually exclusive as they might seem.

That's the thing about teaching: you can be exceptional, phenomenal, the best there is, and you'll still be thinking every night about a dozen things you should be doing better. I could spend every waking hour doing nothing but planning and prepping and teaching and reflecting and grading and analyzing, and it still wouldn't be enough. Plus I would've lost my sanity--not to mention my enjoyment of teaching--long ago, and if that were the case, my kids would hate my class because I would too. So I stay late at school, but I come home and cook and talk and write and visit and play soccer and tennis and violin, knowing that even if I can't be an extraordinary teacher overnight, achieving any sort of well-balanced life in this first year is pretty extraordinary in and of itself.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Light-bulb moment

Tonight I am not doing any work at home. I won't even write about teaching. Is there anything else that exists? Ah, but of course.

Not too long ago, I stopped at Home Depot on a Saturday morning in hopes of finding light-bulb housings to use with my paper lampshades from Laos. Unfortunately, as John in the electrical department informed me, Home Depot doesn't carry such things. But--he said--are you handy with wires? Let me show you what you can do.

I laughed, and almost said no, thanks anyway, and walked out, but I was amused enough by his confidence in my electrical skills that I decided to play along. I would like to be seen as the kind of person who is handy with wires, even if I had no intention of actually following through with the job.

First I was shown to a huge spool of wire, and then to bins of plugs and switches and other gadgets. Soon, I was carrying around bulb housings and actually considering taking them home with me and giving it a shot. I read the employees' aprons: You can do it. We can help. Why not?

After admitting to the infinitely patient salesperson that I had absolutely no electrical experience whatsoever, I started taking copious notes and drawing rather indecipherable diagrams on the back of a receipt while he spent the better part of an hour giving advice on how not to get electrocuted and explaining exactly what needed to be done. It'll take you probably two hours, but it's a relatively simple project, he assured me. You'll be fine. I left with a plug, a switch, three bulb housings, heat shrinks, electrical tape, 30 feet of wire, and a big smile. I was going to be an electrician.

At home with my new toys, I informed my encouraging but slightly skeptical housemates of my plans. Kate volunteered to stay close to the phone, ready to dial the hospital or fire department at a moment's notice. I started snipping and stripping, measuring, hammering, shrinking, sealing, feeling quite impressed that I was actually doing these things, all by myself.

In less than the predicted two hours, I had everything assembled. Time for the moment of truth. I held my breath and plugged it in. Nothing. Not a single one of the three light bulbs turned on. How terribly anticlimactic. I disassembled the bulb housings one at a time, checking for problems, and sure enough, the wires had slipped and weren't making contact with the screws. Fixed them up and tried again--and regarde! A light! Three lights! And a feeling of immense satisfaction. I'm sure I could've bought something perfectly adequate from Target and spent half the money and a fraction of the time, but that sense of accomplishment is pretty much priceless.