Nancy Roman

Back To School

Several teachers weighed in when I wrote about my long-term affection for the first day of school. They get to feel that way every year, they bragged.

And I was jealous.

Sort of.

Back in college, I thought I might teach. Not Accounting or Business like I work in now. No, I was an English major.

Then I did my student teaching semester. Junior High.

Okay, I know you’re groaning. There’s nothing like twenty thirteen-year-olds to elicit significant groaning,

But I liked the kids.

Sort of.

What frustrated me most was herding them. I liked “Rawhide” and “The Big Valley” when I was growing up, and rounding up cattle seemed like a difficult job, but Rowdy Yates and Heath Barkley should have tried it with teenagers.

My typical lesson went something like this:

“Let’s look at this poem – turn around Michelle – what is this guy – everyone listen up – what is this guy – shh – doing  in this  – Scott, cut that out – look here everyone – do you think – please close that window – do you think that the raven – Kim sit down – really speaks – attention, here – what does – put that down –  it mean – quiet – eyes front – what does – no you may not – nevermore.”

And back then, I didn’t even have to contend with texting.

And so I ended my teaching career and began to work with quiet and obedient debits.

But I’ve always thought that perhaps I could still do it. Maybe on the college level, where it’s not the teacher’s responsibility to make sure the kids pay attention.

I could just address the kids who are listening, and ignore the ones who are wasting their parents’ money.

I really believed this. Until a couple of years ago.

A close relative got her dream job – teaching at a prestigious university.

Then not so much.

She is working shitloads of hours. The preparation is insane. And then there are the kids. College kids with kindergarten parents. And the papers and exams to correct. And then there are the papers that she has to write to impress the tenure committee. And the conferences.

And on top of all of that, she’s in a technical field, with rapidly changing technology that is ridiculous to stay on top of. So…. reading and research fill every scrap of spare time.

This is definitely not my dream job.

And yet.

Teaching still has an allure for me. I love the way kids light up when they get it. I love the academic atmosphere… the very air crackles with energy – something important is going on. Learning is happening here. And then of course there’s the first day of school and the new pencil box.

So I have figured it out. How I can semi-retire and have an EASY teaching career.

I may work in Finance, but I was an English major after all. Language may be fluid, but that fluid moves like cold ketchup. And certain literature doesn’t move at all.

Like this guy.

Mark Twain was the focus of my studies as an undergrad.

While my classmates were struggling with pharmacology and engineering, I was reading “Huckleberry Finn.”

Mark Twain had everything for me. He told stories with humor and sarcasm. He lived in Connecticut. He wrote nasty letters to the gas company. He mainly thought the worst of people. He liked cats.

Not only that. He was fussy about his clothes and his hair. I recall that he did not rinse the shampoo out of  his hair, because he liked how fluffy and white his hair looked with the shampoo still in. This is like the earliest precursor of mousse.

This is a person who I may be a reincarnation of.

And the best thing about Mark Twain?

He hasn’t written anything new in 102 years.

I can stay on top of this. I can write my lecture notes just once, and use them until Halley’s Comet comes back.

Mark Twain. My new pencil box. It’s so perfect.

One class a semester… starting at 10 am and I’m done by lunch.


  1. Is that true? About the shampoo? No, nevermind– don’t tell me. I’m going to accept it as fact and repeat it to anyone who will listen all day.


    • I’m not sure if I read that in Twain’s autobiography or whether a professor told me that in a Twain course I took….(or maybe whether I heard it on a tour of his home)… but anyway, it stuck with me. I so identify!


  2. This sounds like a perfect plan!


  3. Bonnie

    “Maybe on the college level, where it’s not the teacher’s responsibility to make sure the kids pay attention.”
    Oh, I am rolling with laughter. We have to constantly be after the students to “engage” them (the currently fashionable term for paying attention). You have NO idea.


    • It’ been so long since I’ve been in school, but way back then the professors paid no attention at all to 70% of the students. The other 30% were happy with this system.


      • Bonnie

        That has totally changed, due to pressures to “retain all students”. It is far more like middle school than you might imagine. I had to yell at a student yesterday because he was playing a noisy video game in the middle of class. I told him point blank “That is really annoying”. He looked confused and put it away. I’ll probably get dinged now on my student evaluations for not being respectful of student needs.


        • Yes, I’m sure that kid ‘needed’ to play his game. But I do NOT want to work hard anymore. I think after retirement I will be a student, not a teacher. And something easy too! No homework. Watercolor is nice.


  4. Dor

    I really relate to this post! As a Future Teacher of America, I was sure that was my calling until I substituted in a third grade class. Spitballs, crying kids, and a redheaded boy who would not come out of the bathroom sent me crying for help from the next door teacher who came in, whispered, and all went quiet. Huh? I had a dentist appointment at 3:30 and was never so happy to sit in the dentist’s chair! Great post. Hits home. 🙂


    • I once subbed the day after Halloween. I realized too late why all the other teachers had called in sick. The next week I got my paycheck in the mail. $22.00.


  5. Michelle Gillies

    Go for it! I think this will work well for you and you will have a new story for us each semester because you know that something will happen. 😉


  6. Sounds like a plan. Have you ever thought of adult ESL? You’ll never find a more grateful group of people that want to be in the classroom. Perfect for an English major.


    • As long as I don’t have to do any work whatsoever. That’s my prerequisite. I just want to talk for 60 minutes to a captive audience. Preferably on a once-a-week basis.


      • Chris

        Nanc, I had to prepare a LOT for my 2 hours of ESOL. Although the classroom had a lot of resources, I found a lot of them inadequate and prepared a lot of my own materials. Still, I really enjoyed it – but of course as you know, I did it voluntarily. You can teach this in the Community Colleges – I don’t think you’d want to go to Bangladesh like Mary’s brother.


      • Bonnie

        I spend about 3 to 5 hours of prep for every hour in the classroom. You should also know that adjunct pay is miserable. I looked into it back when I was still working in industry, and discovered that once I counted prep time, I would be paying the babysitter more than I would be making.


  7. Wait till you publish your blog as a book. They’ll be begging you to teach!


  8. As a retired university teacher, I have to say that I LOVED my job. Since I had no plans for tenure (something that should be illegal), and I didn’t give a flip about what any committee thought, I just went in prepared to teach. (English and English Literature, with the occasional history or humanities class thrown in for good measure.) For the first year, I was the designated substitute for my favorite proffs. That was a lot of fun.

    I honestly think, the best place to teach is at a small community college. Most of the people there are going back to school as adults and really want to learn so they can better themselves. They have some life experience, so you aren’t dealing with a bunch of 18 year old kids who spend the weekend soaking drunk or navel gazing. I truely enjoyed my adult students much more than the young kids straight from mommy and daddy who were just there . . . because.

    If I were ever able to go back to teaching, it would be at either an adult remedial school for GED and ESL, or a community college.


    • Sounds like you were a great teacher. The big question: Can you be a teacher today if you only care about teaching? Or has that become impossible?


      • As with every job, there will always be paper work and meetings, however, inmost adult education classes and in small cooleges, that is much less. So, yes, it can be done, but you have to understand you will be passed over for promotion etc. if you don’t play the political games. I didn’t, I was passed over, I didn’t care.


    • Bonnie

      I agree, returning adult students are the best.


  9. I do not have the patience to teach. I thought I’d like to do it in much the same way that people think they’d like to be a writer. I’ll stick with writing.

    I did teach an afterschool enrichment class to 2nd-5th graders. Subject: Beginning German. I wasn’t trying to make them fluent or anything like that. I was simply giving them an introduction to learning a foreign language. Well, I’ll tell you what. They learned very little, but I learned a lot. Most of the kids were there because their parents wanted them to be there. Only a few were actually interested in learning a little bit of German.

    That was enough teaching for me. But I’m married to a teacher. I still get to experience that first-day-of-school rush, but I don’t have to stand in front of a classroom and recite your PERFECT rendition of herding kids.


  10. Ah Mr. Twain. How he could turn a phrase.


  11. The “shampoo in the hair” Mark Twain factoid is fascinating! Is that true? May I call you Miss Nancy, the way they address teachers at my son’s preschool?

    College students with kindergarten parents. Ugh! Kids today and they’re annoying parents.

    I live in a city with a high population of immigrants and refugees and there are opportunities to teach English to an entire classroom, not just one-on-one jobs. It’s all volunteer-based but I hear it’s extremely fun and rewarding. The teachers I’ve spoken with seem to get way more out of it than they invest into it. Just a thought. Although, I’m not sure Sudanese refugees carry pencil boxes.


  12. That is a nice thought if it actually worked this way. Speaking as a Lit Geek teacher, with the autobiography recently published people are more critical of Twain. There is no more fodder for academe and research than the inferencing a person does in theories on a long dead writer. In that level of teaching there is an “Good Ole Boys” club in particular lit circles and it is very hard to break into unless someone kicks the bucket. (And don’t get me started on all the PC controversy over Huck Finn. I have to wade around it at least twice every school year. I have gotten very good at duck and cover. The desk helps. They won’t work for an atomic bomb but it helps to hide from angry parents.)


  13. I do love my teaching job (teaching elementary gifted and talented students), but it’s hard, and not nearly as hard as it is teaching in the regular classroom these days. You really have to love teaching and love kids to stick with it.


    • I remember having wonderful moments when I was student teacher. I won’t say ‘wonderful days’ or even ‘wonderful classes’ but there were those MOMENTS – and they were amazing!


  14. My dream retirement job as well my friend. But given Universities today, I think I will go for the Community College and the On-Line University, both stock full of adults.

    Wonderful post, I always love visiting you.


    • Thanks! Maybe I will just write my blog in my retirement years. It’s such instant gratification. And I don’t have to see the faces of the folks who think I’m stupid.


  15. I’ll sign up for your course. If your mind is full of “no rinsing out the shampoo”-type tidbits, it would be a nice supplement to all the useless but interesting factoids I know!


    • My mind is crammed full of useless peculiar tidbits. It certainly comes in handy for blogging. For everything else….not so much.


      • I’m glad I found your repository! (And Who says blogging isn’t good for something???)


  16. You’d make one plucky teacher, college kids or otherwise. I like your refreshing outlook on everything. . .


  17. Let the Games Begin!

    I went back to school as an adult – small local community college in rural NW Connecticut. It was an interesting experience. Hurdle #1: I had no vaccination records having had the actual measles, mumps, chickenpox and rubella as a child. This is called Natural Immunity. Try telling that to the 20-something in the admissions office. Hurdle #2: Flunked the math placement test. I was taught “New Math” (Base 8 is just like Base 10 if you’ve had both your pinkies cut off by kidnappers). I ended up doing very well in algebra once I decided it was like learning a new language that had no irregular verbs. Hurdle #3: I did manage to ace the English placement test. A brief essay on the following “historical event”: Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream speech” on the National Mall in DC. I suspect I did particularly well on this since I was there.


    • You were THERE! Wow! Even if it was as a baby (which I’m sure it must have been) – WOW!


  18. I love your interrupted teachers’ monologue – so very accurate!


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