It was 1996 and I was a first-year teacher. I drove a Mazda Protegé and lived in the basement of a wealthy, loud, and exuberant Indian woman’s home. My rent was reasonable and even though I didn’t know much about cooking, I could always come home and smell the spices of curries as they simmered their way down to my humble part of the house.
My life back then, outside of work, was pretty dull and routine; as teaching 34 first graders was exhausting in and of itself. Having little experience, I made teaching my life. I thought I was supposed to commit my life to the profession; not dissimilar to a priest taking a vow of chastity. Needless to say, I lived, breathed and dreamed about my job.
After work each day, I would stop at Wendy’s Drive -Thru to get one Biggie-Sized Coke. The cold carbonation tickled my throat, took my mind away from the classroom for a moment, and became an addiction that I would look forward to at the end of each day. When things were getting out of control in my classroom management, I would picture the Biggie Coke. When Ruben was crying on the edge of my class’ meeting area for no apparent reason, I thought of the Biggie Coke. When Chase was spreading glue on his paper as if he were icing a cake, I would think of the Biggie Coke. When I feared the principal would walk in at any moment and fire me for not knowing what I was doing, I would REALLY think of Mr. Biggie. It was my vice– and a cheap one at that: one dollar for 42 ounces of heaven in a cup with a tapered bottom that fit nicely into my car’s beverage holder. A new teacher’s dream.
After a skippy jaunt down the boulevard, home from work, I’d take a quick Doritos break, then spread out my students’ work on the floor and think about the next day while I finished Biggie. I didn’t know any better. As embarrassing as it is to admit now, I thought back then that the only way to manage my classroom was to create centers for the first-graders to rotate through as I worked with small groups. Our school had just been introduced to guided reading and we had a new shiny literacy program from The Wright Group. We were mandated to put our students into reading groups and follow the program’s guidelines. For a class of 34 that meant creating 7 groups and 7 centers to rotate through. The Wright Group didn’t tell us how to create centers, but I was in awe of a teacher down the hall whose classroom ran like a factory: the students would move through each center rotation and Bernice would sit at her kidney table and work with kids as they came to her. Every time I’d walk past her classroom, I’d steal a glance towards her door, see the effortless efficiency and think of a Biggie Coke. This is how I wanted my classroom to be, and even though Mrs. Green was a busty woman in her 50s with graying hair, I wanted to be her.
This first-year teaching story has a happy ending. Well, actually, it has many happy endings. After my first year, I got a mentor. She encouraged me NOT to undergo a sex change operation to become Bernice and she advised me to give up the Biggie Cokes. She helped me understand that I needed to have a life outside of work to be a better teacher for my students. I’ll forever be grateful.
Nineteen years later and I’m still going strong in the teaching profession just as Wendy’s is still going strong in the burger business. Each time I pass the smiling red-headed girl with pig-tails, I smile and remember the icy cold goodness that got me through that very tough, very “Biggie” first year of teaching.