Shannon Reed’s mother and grandmother were teachers, but Reed wasn’t the least bit interested in teaching as a career. The author of Why Did I Get a B? And Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge says, “I didn’t want to spend my life working to glorify other people’s annoying kids.”
In time the Pennsylvania native discovered that a bachelor’s degree in theater resulted in zero job offers, so when Reed was offered a job teaching preschool, she happily accepted. Soon she realized that she enjoyed teaching. “And here I had a job full of meaning and wonder and glitter and pumpkins and naps and books. I should embrace it. So I did,” she writes.
Eventually Reed earned a master’s degree in Educational Theatre and English Secondary Teaching, and her trip through the profession expanded. She jumped from preschool to jobs at middle schools and high schools, a path that confused many of her classmates. “Look,” she writes, “not that many people really like teenagers, but I do, so I think I should work with them.”
Through a series of essays, Reed takes readers through her career from instructing the preschool “cuddlebugs” to dealing with teens at schools in New York and on to her current job teaching creative writing as a college professor. Along the way, she intersperses humor pieces, fictional takes on some aspects of education that deserve a slightly sardonic discussion.
The autobiographical sections are replete with love and respect for her students, along with a jaundiced eye toward administrators, standardized tests and skimpy paychecks. She is, however, a fan of single-sex education, having witnessed how her female students at a Catholic high school were “more outspoken, more independent, and more invested in their interests . . . than students I had seen in coed programs.”
When Reed takes a college job, she learns that being an adjunct professor is “about as different from the stereotypical image of a professor as you can get.” Underpaid and overworked, many adjuncts, she says, “put up with the indignities and unfairness of the job” because they hope it will lead to an actual full-time professorship.
While the autographical essays are full of the delight and misery Reed experienced as a teacher, the humor pieces give her a chance to comment on the politics and vexing details of teaching. One of my favorites is “Memo to Parents and Legal Guardians Re: Our Updated Schedule for Spirit Days at Mapledale Middle School.” An irreverent nod to the attempts schools make to please everyone, the updated changes include “Friday is Dress in a Color Day!” That replaces a particular color chosen by the principal, after parents pointed out that various colors may have unforeseen problems (all red or blue, for instance, may represent various gangs). With the change, students are prompted to “wear . . . a color. If you want to!”
Reed also offers some advice to those new to teaching, some serious — “a bag of candy distributed on a cold winter’s day can fix a lot of ills” — and some wickedly inspired: “If you really want to freak everyone out, carry a clipboard and walk around the classroom writing on it. It does not matter what you write. Frown a lot.”
Her final guidance: “At graduation, when you meet parents, tell them that their child was a complete delight and a joy to have in your classroom. Every single one.” And I think she means it.
Despite her initial resistance to the idea, teaching was clearly the perfect path for Reed. In Why Did I Get a B?, the underpaid, stressful and significant field earns its fair reward.
Carol Schaal is a former managing editor of this magazine. Her debut mystery novel, All the Deadly Secrets, is available through Amazon. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.