1996 and Biggie Cokes

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.

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12 thoughts on “1996 and Biggie Cokes

  1. Ha! Ha! I had to stop and do a reread as I read “after many changes… I decided to have a sex change operation…” I screeched to a halt and reread twice before I saw the “not.” Thanks for the laugh. Funny post. If you still love “biggie” drinks, Steak and Shake has 1/2 price biggies every day from 2 – 5 p.m. Perfect for an after school treat. Includes milk shakes, too! Great post, Keith! D 🙂

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  2. The first year, what an exhausting time! Compared to some other things that you could have used to get through that first year, a Biggie Coke is probably one of the better choices.

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  3. Very good memoir story! I remember those first days myself. I was always looking forward to time at the gym instead of a coke, but now I’d settle for a walk. One year a friend and I were teaching and carpooling together and we stopped for a can of soda every day on our way home (a 45 minute drive). That was a bad habit. Now I try to remember to pack an apple or other fruit to help me make the 15 minute trek home. I’m glad you figured it all out! Hooray for smart mentors. I can’t imagine setting up 7 centres every day! I went to a demonstration class one time (grade 1) and she had 4 or 5 centres going. I went back to class thinking I should do something like that, but I just about lost my mind trying to figure it out.

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! It made me laugh and think and remember…which is exactly what wonderful writing allows the reader to do. I loved your desire to be Bernice and your comforting Biggie Coke. You wrapped everything up beautifully.

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  5. “I thought I was supposed to commit my life to the profession; not dissimilar to a priest taking a vow of chastity.” I connected with this line because as I struggle to balance the demands of teaching and raising a family I have thought there was some logic to having the nuns be teachers. I enjoyed your flashback post to the beginning of your career. You showed the power of mentor teachers.

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  6. I love how “Biggie” turned into a character in your story and took on a personality all its own, even capturing the size of that first year’s experience. What a playful way to thread this tangible artifact of your life through your slice today. Nicely done – a pleasure to read.

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  7. I loved reading your beautifully crafted memory of your first year of teaching. I especially loved how you wove that “Biggie Coke” throughout, tying everything together so masterfully. You made me smile and nod in agreement. And at the end I sighed with pleasure because this truly was a delight to read. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  8. I can’t imagine 34 first graders. Oh my. I love your details and this snippet of your first year of teaching. I am putting this on my list as a topic. So glad you survived and stuck with teaching.

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  9. Great post! So funny and so real. You brought it all to life so clearly — walking by the other teacher’s room, having your Doritos break — it must have a really memorable year for you to still recall all those details. It brought back memories of my first year teaching, though I didn’t drink Biggie Cokes – the morning coffee was my go-to.

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  10. There are still some days that only the promise of a Biggie Coke can drag you through. The Doritos are just icing on the cake. Nutrition for teacher survival.

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