Story One – Becoming a Grown-up
The year is 1980. I am interviewing for a teaching job from Fresno to Oregon. It is a tight year, few of us are getting job offers. For those who might not know – we had electric typewriters, color television, and no computers in our school. The State of California did not have State Standards and the Federal Government had not created Common Core.
The only guideline we had to follow was that we needed to teach 20 minutes of physical education every week or was it two weeks? There was framework that gave us some specifics as to what physical education was all about and how we might teach it.
I was good. Yes, I was good. I was built to teach. I had completed a year of Student Teaching where I spent one semester in Redding at Cypress Elementary under the guidance of Darlene Blancett who was amazing. I learned so much and will forever be thankful for her. The second semester I spent in Chico at Neal Dow Elementary. Neal Dow Elementary was designed for team teaching. The buildings are hexagons with removable walls between the classrooms. I was assigned to a 3-4 classroom and appreciated learning how to teach a combination class.
I was ready! Until I wasn’t!
Every application I sent out was followed up by a personal visit. I would get dressed up and “pop in” at the school district office to ask if my application and resume had come in. I wanted to know if there were any other things I needed to give them and that I wanted to work at that particular school district.
I showed up in Anderson, California (Cascade Union Elementary School District) wearing a dress I had just finished making. It was the hottest time of the year with the temperature over 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I did not wear stockings but had nice sandals on and I had a nice tan from the summer sun.
I was invited in to sit with the superintendent. He was so friendly. I was happy he took time for me as most superintendents didn’t have any time for a twenty-one year old teacher wanna be. After we talked he said something that caused me to be embarrassed. “Sally, Can I give you a bit of advice?”
Well yeah I thought but said, “Yes, Please!”
“When you come in for your formal interview it would be good if you wore stockings. You want us to see you as a professional so that might just be the one thing that sets you apart from the rest of the applicants.” Good advice??? I was embarrassed to have him tell me I was inappropriately dressed.
Of course I owned stockings since I wore them to church now and then. I set up my interview wardrobe and was all ready for my real interview.
Flash Forward one week. The Saturday before my Monday interview. I was babysitting my two besties, Christopher and Kyle. We loved to play with each other. I decided to make them popcorn and got it all going in the popcorn popper I was not accustomed to.
The popcorn popper was one of those that had a “bowl” on top of a heating element. As the popcorn pops it fills up the “bowl”. When the “bowl” is full you flip the whole thing upside down and you have popcorn. I was sitting cross legged on the floor so the boys (ages 3 and 5) could see the popcorn pop. I carefully flipped the popper upside down and burning hot oil dripped on my right thigh. There were eight burns ranging in size between a silver dollar and dime.
My first thought, after I stopped hopping around and putting ice on my leg, was about those stockings I was expected to wear to that interview. I wouldn’t have worried about it going anywhere else. What was I going to do.
I bandaged my wounds and man did they hurt! Then I thought of the solution. I put fake bandages on my calf. Big ones. I put some Vaseline on the bandages to make them look more real. Obviously I was not going to lift my dress and say, “Hey Mr. Superintendent, wanna look at my inner thigh to see my bandages?”
The interview went very well. At the end of it they ask if we have anything to add or any questions. “I want to explain the reason I am not wearing pantyhose today. I burned myself making popcorn for two little boys I was babysitting on Saturday. I saw the doctor who recommended I keep the burns covered and not put any pressure on them. I apologize and hope this won’t hurt my chances of working for you.”
Two weeks later I was hired to teach the fourth grade. I never explained the situation to any of the people on the interview committee thinking I was in the clear. I showed up and the superintendent said, “Hmmm it looks like your burns cleared up pretty fast.”
OH NO! What should I do? Come clean was my decision. “Mr. Superintendent, I actually burned my thigh, kind of far up. I was sitting cross legged when the hot oil burned me. Those are still very raw and covered but I didn’t know how to tell you about them so I demonstrated it lower on my leg. I am sorry that I tricked you.”
Of course, as I transitioned from a young college kid to an experienced adult teacher I recognized that he was quite inappropriate in his assessment of my legs. Funny now that I am older I would love to have those young legs again. Legs that don’t hurt and haven’t got wrinkles so bad that they could be mistaken for an elephants legs.
You might wonder how it all turned out in the end. I was put in a class of 35 fourth graders. I will tell you some stories about kids from that school that will make you laugh.
When I arrived to meet my principal I was not greeted warmly. I was told to sit down and me said, “I didn’t want to hire you. This is a terrible group of students. You will have all the hard kids. The teacher who left moved down to the third grade to avoid teaching these kids.” I sat there listening and thinking that I could handle them. I wasn’t afraid of the situation because I didn’t know enough to be afraid. I didn’t know enough to ask questions. I was already overwhelmed and I had only been to work one hour. “I wanted to hire a man and I believe you are too young to teach.”
I had always been open and friendly and I am pretty funny. I had never met a “grown-up” who would say mean things like that to me. I thought he was being funny…he wasn’t.
“Well, I promise to get older but a sex change would be out of the question as my fiancé would probably have an issue with that.” and I laughed. He didn’t. Oops… Things never straightened out with him.
One day in October the Principal’s wife was at school. She was a teacher in a larger school district and had quite the snappy personality. She used to lean on the intercom button in the office so whatever they were discussing would be broadcast to all the classrooms and playground.
Suddenly I hear Mr. Principal say, “When I go in her classroom I can’t even find her among the students. I told her that Chuckie was a bad kid and that I wanted her to make a “dunce cap” to make Chuckie wear when he is out of control. I don’t even know if she knows what a “dunce cap’ is.”
His wife commented, “Are you jealous that our daughter is seven years older than she is and hasn’t even graduated college yet and she has started her career? You should tell our daughter that she is a losers, not Sally.”
My fellow teachers decided to take me under their wings and protect me from his wrath. I needed a lot of help. One of the teachers started calling me, “Baby Sally” and I remained the youngest teacher in the district for the next eight years. I was so happy when a new young teacher was hired…she was one year younger than I was.
It is hard to transition from kid to adult. Hard to do it when your pay is so little you still need mommy and daddy to pay for your car insurance. But, I love teaching and it loved me back.