Thursday, February 26, 2009

"To Sir, With Love"

Those schoolgirl day-ay-ays

Of telling tales and biting nails are go-o-one

But in my mi-eye-ind

I know they sti-i-ill…will still live on and on…

I had lived in England for four months and I hadn’t worked a day. What did I do? I don’t remember. My evenings were covered. I went to the pub; that was a constant. I also went to the theater, movies, and sometimes, a pub person threw a party and invited me along. The specifics are hazy, but I know I was active.

What did you do in the daytime?

Beats me. I’d visit the House of Commons and sit in the gallery. I did that, maybe, twice. So there was that.

What about the rest of the time?

Don’t press me. Sundays, I’d buy the Sunday London Times, which was a very thick paper, go up to Hampstead Heath and read it on the grass. That was Sundays.

And the other six days?

I’m thinking. Once a month or so, I’d take the Underground to Trafalgar Square and read a week-old copy of the Toronto Globe and Mail at Canada House. The Leafs won the Stanley Cup that year. I read about it in Canada House. I shouted a belated “Yay!” (I received some rebuking glares for that. It’s a quiet place, Canada House.)

So there was House of Commons twice and once a month at Canada House. And the rest of the time?

I have no idea. I had some money, my expenses were under control (I was eating meatballs out of a tin. And kind of liking it.) With the exception of camp, where I’d been a counselor (primarily because I was too old to continue being a camper), and a year or so as a paperboy when I was eleven, I had no work experience whatsoever. I had never had a legitimate job, and had no idea how to get one.

Then this guy I met told me that as a college graduate and a member of the Commonwealth, I qualified to be a substitute teacher in the British school system.

I’m not sure I wanted a job. Though at some point, I wouldn’t have a choice. My money wasn’t going to last forever, and I had no interest in going home. Going home meant – at least I thought it meant – knowing what you wanted to do with your life, and I was totally clueless. It’s not fun being in your hometown when you don’t have any plans. There are people there who know you. And they’re always asking, “So, what are your plans?”

"I don’t have any!!!"

You don’t want go all Vesuvius on people for simply asking you about your plans. They’ll tell your mother. And then… Let’s just say, when you’re undecided about your future, it’s better to be somewhere else.

For me, the “somewhere else” was London. But there was something unsatisfying about doing nothing. Just as I had never had a legitimate job, I had never done nothing before either. There was always something. I went to school. Then I went to camp. Then I went to school. Then I went to camp. Then I went to Law School. Then I quit. Suddenly, I’m living in London doing nothing.

It didn’t feel like enough.

At the time, none of these thoughts came into my mind or out of my mouth. Consciously, I believed I was having a pretty good time.

And now I hear they’re throwing substitute teacher jobs at anyone with a degree. I couldn’t turn that down. It would expose me as a person who didn’t want to work. Which, is probably what I was, but this was before slackers, and you didn’t really want that label.

So I signed up to be a substitute teacher.

Here’s how it worked. Every morning, after seven-thirty, you would call this, I don’t know, Teacher Dispatch number. The dispatcher would tell you whether they needed you that day, and if they did, they’d tell you which school to go to, and you’d have to hurry to get there before “the bell”, so you’d be on time to start substitute teaching.

Whatever that meant.

Which they didn’t tell you.

For me, the “call-in” process presented a problem. My landlady, Mrs. Tompkins, was extremely frugal. Telephone usage cost money. So every night, before going to bed, Mrs. Tompkins locked her phone in the kitchen broom closet, so her tenants couldn’t make “break the bank” phone calls while she was asleep.

Mrs. Tompkins didn’t get up until eight. The substitute teacher assignments were “first-come, first-serve.” To have any chance of working, I was therefore required to go down the block to a payphone at seven-thirty in the morning to make the call.

Here’s what I had to do. Every weekday, at six-thirty in the morning, I had to get up, shower, shave, put on my “teacher clothes” – white shirt, tie, sports jacket and nice slacks – grab a quick breakfast, then go out to the payphone to make my seven-thirty phone call.

That was my routine. Five mornings a week. Unfortunately, my first two weeks, I was informed that I wasn’t needed. “Nothing today,” the dispatcher would crisply report. “Call back tomorrow.” And that would be that.

Except for this.

It was seven-thirty in the morning. I was all dressed up. And I had nowhere to go.

Other substitute teachers enjoyed the luxury of calling from their homes, free from crazy landladies who incarcerated their telephones. Those people could stay in their pajamas. If they weren’t needed, they could go back to bed.

I was all dressed up!!!

Finally, the drought was broken. I received my first assignment. That’s when I noticed something amazing. I discovered myself running down the street to get to my job. This is highly noteworthy, as I am not in the habit of running anywhere.

Tomorrow: I am given my own class, with absolutely no idea of what to do.


Corinne said...

As a teacher and former principal, the grins and LOLs are already starting in anticipation.

A. Buck Short said...

Will you hurry up and get better Mr. Pomerantz. Whoever's been filling in for you these past coupl'a weeks doesn't write anywhere nearly as well as you do. And that's not just me saying that. It's me typing that!