I keep thinking that I hated high school. And then I keep realizing that, really, I didn’t. Sure, it was no utopia, but except for a few fleeting hours in my early ‘20s, I haven’t begun to approach anything even remotely utopian. (It occurs to me that maybe I should look into that.)
So, realizing that I, in fact, did not hate high school, may have even enjoyed it to some extent, I find myself working in one. This is not, mind you, something I set out to do. But few things I end up doing are things I set out to do (something else worth investigating, I suppose). It’s not unlike the performance of figure skating’s Midori Ito when she flung herself into what started out as a gorgeous triple axel or lutz or something but ended when, having flung herself harder than I suspect even she knew she could, she landed off the ice next to the TV camera. She said later in an interview, “I remember thinking, ‘Ouch, this hurts; what am I doing here?’ ” Girl, I know how you feel.
Since September I have been working as a high-school instructional aide in Vermont. I am not a member of the faculty. (Read: I am not a teacher, and any aspirations I may have naively entertained to that end have surely fallen by the wayside by now.) This, after flinging myself into my proverbial triple axel or lutz or whatever, thinking I was only coming here on hiatus, in between New York and somewhere-other-than-here, then finding myself unemployed in the fall (having spent the summer flying back and forth to New York for work). Since then, I have thought to myself at least once a day, “Ouch, this hurts (you moron); what are you doing here?”
This is the sort of job you are either so thoroughly repelled by, you quit or come to regard as nothing more than a biweekly check, or you are unwittingly and swiftly sucked in and find yourself even beginning (against the odds) to care. My experience has been the latter. The drawback is, and I say this in all seriousness, I don’t like kids. At all. In fact, on my first day, I was so intimidated by a class of sophomores, I didn’t say two words. (For someone who was voted “Most Verbose” in eighth grade, this was a milestone.)
When the first bell rings at 7:40, I’m usually upstairs in the kitchen polishing off my caffeine-in-a-cup. A year ago at this time, I would just be getting up. Of course, a year ago I was working (on a good day) as a free-lance whatever-you-need-me-to-be, usually a production coordinator for a fashion show and event producer. Now, I make less than $10 an hour, working roughly 35 hours a week, which averages out to just under $400 a paycheck. In New York I was making $500 to $750 a day. The dichotomy between the two worlds, however, isn’t as vast as it may seem. Models and high-school students have a lot in common.
To be fair, I don’t really consider the upperclassmen kids. Even some of the underclassmen border on maturity. And because I am not a teacher, do not stand at the board, and am not revered in the way teachers are, it is easier for students to view me as a peer (sort of). (This is aided by the fact that at 27, I still pass for 16.) This being high school, however, and adherence to schedules being of little import in the adolescent mind, I spend a fair amount of time waiting for instead of working with students. For someone who’s been known to leave a restaurant if the person I’m meeting is more than 15 minutes late, this has taken some getting used to.
Noting my oft wildly post-adolescent expectations, a colleague once asked me, “Why do you work here?” (This particular colleague is so often sarcastic and yet so serious in tone that I never take anything he says seriously anymore.) I suppose I like the job (because it sure as hell isn’t for the money). Besides, everyone knows that these days you won’t even get on the podium without a quad, and I’m still trying to land that damn triple axel without knocking out the cameraman.