Hamsters

On teaching, university, writing, and hamsters.

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I need an attitude adjustment.

The kids in my class had swimming lessons on the first day of my first teaching practicum last semester. The hamlet I was placed in (yeah, it’s so small it doesn’t even get to be called a town) didn’t have a swimming pool, so the teacher and I loaded up the kids onto a school bus for an hour’s ride to the Bumbleton pool. I sat next to a cute little blonde girl on the bus, and she proceeded to tell me about her pet hamster while the immense flatness of Southern Alberta passed by out the windows.

I went into this practicum with an acute fear of small children. No, the words “acute” and “fear” are not hyperbolic. Children are terrifying.

The last time I interacted with more than one child, I was a child. Even back then, I detested most them, much preferring the company of older kids, adults, or best of all, books. This, as well as the fact that social interactions drain rather than energize me (which seems detrimental to succeeding as a teacher) made me incredibly nervous to embark on such a strange and uncomfortable adventure to a grade 2/3 class. My cohort spent the semester before the practicum reflecting on our feelings and why we want to be teachers. I existed on the periphery of the group, thinking, “I don’t have feelings, and I’m not sure if I even want to be a teacher” and, “I don’t like humans, I like books!” But I was optimistic, still high from my escape from Bumbleton even though my practicum would be sending me right back home; I thought I could do it. Maybe I could like little kids if I tried really hard.

So I sat on that bus next to that six year old girl, and I asked her about her hamster. I thought that if I asked, if I showed interest, that this would create my first real connection to a child. They’re all about making connections in the ed program–something else that is really hard for me.

So she told me about her hamster and a hamster that died and her horse and her dogs and do I have any pets?

I told her about my dogs, and we chattered a little bit back and forth, but eventually,  not knowing what else to possibly talk to a miniature human about, I let the conversation die peacefully. I was proud that I had tried so hard, reached out and showed an interest.

But she revived the conversation. Like Frankenstein’s monster, she sent violent intermittent bolts of lightning into the corpse over and over again; she just wouldn’t let it die.

Did I have a hamster? She asked.

Nope! Just the two dogs, I told her, raising my voice above the yelling of the other kids on the rolling yellow tin can, feeling my energy draining.

Oh…Well her hamster did this thing that was cute one time.

Wow, that is cute!

And also, more about her hamster. And also this fact about hamsters. And do I ever want to have a hamster? I should get a hamster. Hamsters have wiggly noses. Hamsters, hamsters, hamsters.

I was stuck, blocked in on the seat by her and her fucking hamsters. And it had only been ten minutes out of sixty on the bus.

I didn’t know if asking her for quiet time or if I stopped answering would do irreparable damage to her delicate child psyche, so I persisted. I continued to engage with her longer than I would ever have tried to were I not so desperate to succeed at this career.

Eventually, despite all of my efforts, I ran out of cools, and neats, and wows.

But the bus kept going. And so did she.

Hamsters!

And I thought on my very first day, “I can’t do this.”
But now I’m here in the first full week of my second semester, and I did do it.

Barely.
Since classes have begun, I’ve been debating a lot about whether I want to finish this program. There are fifty-one students in every class this semester, and we’re in a windowless room with a heating problem for seven hours every single day. There’s also another practicum at the end of the classes; the thought of it horrifies me.

The date to drop out and get my tuition back is swiftly approaching, and I’ve been trying to consult with friends and family for advice, but nobody’s input has drastically impacted my view of the program or my options. That’s very likely because at my core, all I want to be is a writer, and my friends know that, but they’re taking into consideration that whole needing to eat and pay rent thing too.

I decided today that I’m going to finish the program. Not because I want to be a teacher, but because I want to be a writer.

Since my third year of my first degree, I’ve turned into a high strung straight A student because I wanted to get into an English masters program. This still might happen one day, but realistically, it’s off the table for at least five years. I loved studying English, so devoting every waking hour to it wasn’t a chore.

But I don’t love education.

In fact, it makes me rather miserable. But I got straight A’s last semester in education, so I don’t need to worry too much about my GPA unless I start getting C’s (which let’s be real, even if I’m not wholly devoted to it, I’m too much of a spaz to let that happen). So I’ve decided that I’m going to be a writer and a student and focus equally on both goals rather than prioritizing school as I usually do. This plan is foreign to me; all I’ve identified myself as for a very long time is a lover of being educated, of being a student. But other students have families and careers and life stuff that take priority over their studies. So maybe I can make school not be number one for once either because A. I’m miserable, and B. writing is that important to me.

I’m going to create some happiness for myself while doing something tedious. At least until the practicum begins.

My first practicum experience never got better after that first day on the bus. In fact, it’s the reason why I’m so discouraged and pessimistic about the whole program now when before I was so optimistic and motivated.

A moment that perfectly represents how it went was when the teacher addressed the class after swimming lessons and said, “Alright! Everyone in the same seat on the way back!”

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