Gettin’ Schooled

I’ve made reference a few times to the positive good change that’s been in play on my day-to-day recently.


Some life changes can be both big and small at the same time.

When I changed schools (sort of), it was like this. It was a big change, because my situation felt so completely different than it had at my old school.

But there are still things inherent to being a teacher that won’t change, even with a change of schools, even with a jump from public-in-a-poor-area to private-and-mostly-compliant-kiddos. The calendar is going to be pretty similar. The general demands are incredibly similar. The job is kind of the same, at its core.

And working from home is what it is; whatever you’re doing at home may be different — there may be different kinds of deadlines, and you may be required to attend meetings on camera (so you have to dress profesh at least from the shoulders up) — but the general weirdness of not leaving the house all day is common to that style of work.

I have not been teaching, and I have not been working from home. It’s confusing, because when I now talk about “driving to school,” or that I “didn’t want to miss class,” they’re mostly still in the frame of me as a teacher, not me as a student.

Apparently, although I told a lot of people I was “thinking about applying” to programmer school, I neglected to mention to almost anyone that I did apply, did get in, and subsequently decided to attend.

Every teacher, even if they’re a good teacher who loves teaching and doesn’t actually want to do anything else, occasionally dreams of what it would be like to have a regular-ass job. With regular hours, regular pay, and where you can take a sick day when you are sick. The prize plum is the regular-ass job where you wouldn’t take your work home with you in the evening… the kind that would end at 5pm when you left. Wistful sigh, end daydream.

So I’m now in my first week of programmer school… and it’s awesome.

I am not sure yet if I will love being a programmer.

But I’ve become aware that I love being a student. It’s basically my favorite thing.

This is how I led myself to believe I wanted to be a teacher. I liked being in school, and so thought it wouldn’t really matter in what capacity I continued to be in a school environment. But loving school doesn’t mean you’ll be a good teacher. It may even set you up for more disappointment than those who hated school — Scott hated school, gave all his teachers hell, and is now incredibly effective with students. He makes them feel heard, motivates them, and gets them to understand shit, none of which I was particularly good at.

But. I freakin’ love being on the other side of it. Being shown how to do something, hearing new information, taking it all in. And, let’s be honest, I’m definitely out to soak up whatever praise I can coerce my way (unhealthily obsessed with the approval of authority figures? Eh, maybe a little..).

The thing is, I didn’t know how much I liked being a student until now. I had been a student basically my whole life, from childhood all thr way through college. It was only recently that I spent some time not being a student. That break, that time of being a teacher instead, has given me perspective and appreciation (and acceptance) that this is what I really enjoy and also what I’ve always been good at.

Previously in my life, I spent a lot of energy being stressed about being the most perfect student I could be. This got a lot harder in college, but I somehow managed to still impress everyone and rack up a bunch of accolades.

Last time I was kind of a student, in my teacher training program, the stress was on thick because I already wasn’t quite as good at any of that as I wanted to be, thought I should be, needed to be in order to really succeed long term as a teacher. (Of course, my natural stubbornness got me through not only training, but also three and half-ish years of doing the job.)

The decision to go to programmer school was based on a lot of things. A little desperation, a little curiosity, a little bit of that same old stubbornness.

Unlike my previous humanities/liberal arts/Classical Languages (actual title) degree, NSS is basically trade school. You put in 6 months and you generally get some kind of job as a developer somewhere in town. From what I have heard, you start somewhere, spend a couple of years doing whatever, then slowly move from job to job til you find what you really like the best and you stay there. (But, as you do this wandering, you start at a pay grade a few notches above teacher salary.. and let’s be honest? I’m tired of being moderate-poor.)

I’ve convinced myself I can pretty much learn anything. I have the wit and acumen, and the bull-headedness to do so. My greatest danger is perfectionism and the fear of failure. Since becoming a teacher, I’ve heard “fail forward” and that failure is a function of learning so many times I could recite it like a mantra through my sleep. But it’s difficult sometimes to keep myself mindful of it when I’m in the thick of struggling with material I  personally don’t understand. You see, failing forward is of course for those unfortunate enough to fail in the first place… (so when you’re good at being a student, and that’s all you do for basically 22 years of life, you start to think you are or have to be good at everything else, too). ..cough.. ..gulp..

Where was I? Oh right, that material I don’t understand.


Material I don’t understand yet. Because dammit, I’m going to..

The entire staff also does a lot to remind us all to think not about comparing ourselves to others in the class, but to our own previous selves. What do we know, and what can we do today that we couldn’t a week ago? Three weeks ago?
Honestly? A pretty hefty shit-ton.
(But still, that guy who came in with a computer science degree and that other guy who ‘did some work’ before with such-and-such programming language still knows way more than me about any of this… and that can be hard to ignore… not to mention the people who simply finished the pre-work that we were told to do as much as we could manage before starting, and I only got 1/3 of the way through….)
I can do a lot of stuff I couldn’t do three weeks ago.

I love grappling with stuff I never imagined tackling, but I especially like it when I win. I like working with other people who are grappling with the same stuff, and I love it when we help each other figure things out.

I like our teachers and TAs, and so far I like the material. I keep feeling like I’m just barely in the arena of understanding this shit, and I keep thinking this must be what it’s like to be learning a language in a “comprehensive input” environment, where the language teacher throws new shit at students that is just ever-so-slightly beyond what they understand, just barely within the range of what they can figure out and piece together.

I can piece it together (barely), I can figure it out (kind of), and when I can’t, I can follow along and look forward to a time when it will (hopefully) fall into place.

I also really enjoy being in a class because classes have always been where I made friends. Seeing the same people every day, working with them on projects, eating lunch at the same table with them — this is the kind of pushed-together familiarity that breeds friendship in my experience. I’m typically shy in gatherings of strangers, and don’t follow up well, or do it in awkward ways, which is part of why I haven’t made that many friends in the last 4 years of living here (there are exceptions… those who have manged to outlast the weird side).
I can do performative networking: I can smile and be expressive and impressive and even charming (in a slightly awkward way), but that takes a lot of work. My classmates have already seen me go from teacher-style professional dress to jeans and no makeup at all, and we’re only like 15 days in. Plus, the students are of all different ages and backgrounds, so I find it a lot easier to fit in than I felt it was at either of my schools.

I like being in school.

My wreck occurred on the third day of my new program, so my two life changes have been nearly simultaneous. I’ve spent most of my new school life getting rides and being very dependent. I’ve had to plan carefully about things like lunch and how I was getting to and from school.

Today I celebrated my independence (yay for driving myself to school!) by going to a taco truck for lunch. Four dollars never tasted so good (school is off Nolensville Pike), unless it was from the shwarma place a little further down.

More to the point, the good-stress of starting this new thing has been piled together with the bad-stress of all that other shit. The combination has been a little overwhelming. I’m only now starting to get it together between the two, and trying to re-create some kind of sense of being ‘on top of shit’ again.

My life is totally different than it was like a month ago, y’all.

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1 Response to Gettin’ Schooled

  1. Maria Gall Fontenot says:

    Sounds like you may be on the right track Emmy Lou – I certainly got the vibe from your short visit here that you kind of fell into teaching and didn’t really know if you wanted to be a teacher forever. Good for you for trying a different tack – you could do so many different things this is a start!!

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