Wait…What?

“Hi, my name is Becky.   Are you new this year too?”

I looked over to the door of my classroom.  It was a week before the start of school and I’d already been here a week trying to get the room ready.  I had seen a few teachers around, though I was starting to wonder where they all were; I hadn’t met any other first grade teachers yet.

“Yes, I am,” I said, dusting my hands off on my shorts and walking over to the woman at the door.   She was about my age, red headed and had a kind face.  I introduced myself.  “What grade are you teaching?”

“I’m in first grade.  You too?  I guess that makes sense since I’m across the hall from you.  Have you met anyone else yet?”

Instantly, I knew Becky and I were going to get along.  She’d taught for a year in a parochial school on the East side of town, but needed a full time position since she’d just gotten married.  Her husband was a graduate student at the University of Michigan and working for one of the drug companies that often scoured the university for talent.  She, like me, was hesitant to accept the job that was so quickly offered to her, but knew that she wasn’t going to have a lot of options in this economy.  We wondered together why a school in what seemed like a decent neighborhood didn’t have a copy machine, or a computer lab, or a library.

“I have never seen an elementary school without a library,” I offered.  “I’m a first year teacher.  I’ve been scouring garage sales for books but how are these kids going to read if there aren’t any books?”

Becky hadn’t ever heard of such a thing either.  “I have a small library from my parochial school classroom last year, but I taught second grade so some of them are a little higher level.  But you’re welcome to look at them if you need anything.  Start the book orders soon; you earn tons of free books through those.”  I remembered that from my student teaching days.

“And no air conditioning either,” I brought up.  “Not that I expected it or anything in an older building, but ouch…I have got to bring in a fan.  I hope that first week of school isn’t terribly hot.”  I’d been sweating in places I didn’t even know I had cleaning out my classroom.  No one had been through the closet in what must have been years, because it was full of all sorts of deteriorating supplies.  Everything was dusty and dirty.

“That’s not a big deal,” Becky countered.  “My last school didn’t either.  You get used to it.   Invest in skirts; they’re cooler.  Little light dresses.  I’m more worried about not having a bathroom close to our classrooms.  You’d think they’d have put the younger kids down near the bathrooms.”  That was true.  In the suburbs, not only were you near bathrooms, but lower elementary classrooms often had bathrooms attached to the classroom.  But my student teaching building didn’t; I’d had to march the kids down to the bathrooms twice a day for bathroom breaks.  I was used to it.

“How many kids are on your list?” I asked her.  I had been flabbergasted to find 37 names on my class list.  I’d never had more than 24 or 25 in my classes subbing in the suburbs.  Even my sixth grade class in the city had only had 31 kids in it.

“Thirty six,” Becky responded.  “Can that be right?  How is that even possible?”

“I have thirty seven, and just as many desks.  They must think that is how many are coming.”

We both looked at each other with a healthy dose of trepidation.   My class was nearly double the recommended amount of students in a first grade classroom.   We’d known that taking a job in the city was going to mean less supplies, less support and kids with bigger needs, but I personally hadn’t quite expected that we’d also have so many more of them.

“Welcome to FR Elementary, I guess,” I said.   We both laughed, but it was tinged with nervousness.  What had we gotten ourselves into?

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