I loved school growing up.
It’s not like I was some overly-sappy kiss up to the teacher, but I definitely worked hard to be the best in my classes. In almost every class I had, after maybe fifth grade, I’d picture how I’d teach the class.
It was almost too distracting when someone wasn’t good at their job.
My folders were clutched in my arms as I made my way through the school. The entire campus was quiet, save for the couple of teachers who were wondering the halls. It was nice, like the quiet before the storm.
My mind was bubbling over with ideas.
Eventually I wanted to be a middle school science teacher. I wanted to educate children on the world around us, and imbue them with a sense of wonder and joy. For now, though, I was going to have to work with college aged students.
My stomach fluttered nervously as I let myself into the classroom I’d be working in that day. It was large, tall, room, with a wall of tall windows that were currently letting in the pale morning light. Instead of singular desks, there were rows of tables for the students to share, wide with black surfaces that glimmered as I turned on the light. Up front was Mrs. Jordan’s desk, I could see that she had already pulled up a chair for me to sit with her as I assist.
I couldn’t fight the smile on my lips.
My first day as a teacher’s assistant.
I could feel my heartbeat a little quicker, and I set down my bag and coffee.
I felt like I was on the edge of something great, and it left me feeling giddy and almost childish.
A knock on the door surprised me.
“Are you Miss Thomson?” a deep voice asked. There was a man at the door, he looked at least ten years older than me and was incredibly handsome. His thick jaw was stubbled, showing he hadn’t shaved that morning, and the shade of hair brought my gaze up to his bright green eyes settled above his sharp cheekbones.
“I am, how can I help you?” I approached him, to talk, and couldn’t help but notice how fit his body looked under his button front shirt and slacks. There were ropes of muscle hiding under that fabric, and I almost wanted a glimpse of them.
I felt my cheeks tinge with embarrassment when I realized he’d caught my gaze.
It’s not like I’d even know what to do with a man like him, I’ve never done anything besides kiss before.
I tried to focus on why he was there.
“Mrs. Jordan’s daughter went into labor this morning, she won’t be able to come in,” he explained. His voice was deep and rumbly, and I couldn’t be too upset regardless of what he told me.
It took my mind a moment to realize what he was saying.
“Wait- she’s not coming in? Is there a substitute or stand-in planned?” I asked, shocked. “Or would you like me to email her students to let them know class is cancelled?” Disappointment was heavy in my stomach. I’d really wanted to help teach the class today.
“No, it’s too late for that since her first class is in twenty minutes,” he shook his head. “I’m in the class next door, why don’t you stand in for her today, and if you have any questions you can come over and ask me,” he offered.
“I’ve never-” I started, flustered. “I haven’t even aided a class yet, how am I supposed to lead one?” I wasn’t trying to argue with him, I just really didn’t know if what he wanted me to do was possible.
“It’ll be okay, if you need anything I’ll be right here for you,” he explained, nodding to the door. “I’m Rick Crayton, by the way.” He held out his hand to me, and I took it, shaking it and hoping it would instill some kind of confidence in me.
“Thank you, do you know if she has a syllabus, or?” I was almost shaking at this point.
“I’m sure she does,” he nodded. Walking over to her desk, he pulled it open and pulled out a notebook marked with the year. We flipped through a few pages until we landed on one marked for today.
It was a lab, basically a test, so it’s not like I’d have to do much besides let them work on their own.
“You got an easy day,” he laughed. “I have a class coming up too, if you need anything I’m just on the other side of this whiteboard,” he motioned to the wall.
“Thank you Mister Crayton,” I said. It was overwhelming, and I didn’t have much time to set up the stations, but I could see this was a big opportunity.
“Call me Rick,” he smiled. I watched him walk out, and my stomach flipped and turned with butterflies and anxiety.
This is a lot more than I expected to take on.
Gathering my courage, and the notebook with the syllabus in it, I tried my best to get a move on. The lab was simple, they just needed a couple chemicals and a base. I printed out dozens of copies of the instructions so they could each have their own, and made sure to set goggles and gloves at every table.
This was going to be fun!
I could feel it in my bones.
As the first students began to pour in, I felt like I was simmering with nervous energy.
“Who are you?” one of the students asked. He looked like he was hardly out of high school, still only just a couple years younger than me.
“I’m standing in for Mrs. Jordan today, her daughter’s in labor,” I explain, smiling.
“Oh, sweet, so I don’t have to be here,” he said.
At first I thought he was joking- but then I had to watch as he walked right out of the classroom.
“- what?” I was confused and embarrassed.
He didn’t stop, he didn’t look like he was joking, the boy just walked right out of class just because I wasn’t their usual teacher. I frowned, hurt and annoyed, but tried to keep my demeanor pleasant. A few more students left as soon as they came in, and I tried to tell myself that they just thought they’d come into the wrong class. By the time class was set to start, less than half of the students on the roster were even there.
I pushed forward, though.
I couldn’t let them get the best of me.
As we went through the lesson, I could tell more of the students were sizing me up. One of them was a middle aged woman who seemed to grimace at me regardless of what I did. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because I looked so young.
I’m 20, not the youngest in the room by far, but I could see why someone might have trouble seeing me as an authority figure. I couldn’t take anything they were saying or doing personally. I knew better than that. The lab was slow going, several students refused to wear their goggles until I said I’d write it down for Mrs. Jordan to know about, and others walked out halfway through the class. I felt stupid, weak.
At one point, I looked up and saw that Rick was checking in on my class.
He was standing in the doorway, his eyes slid over my mostly-empty class, and then back to me and I could swear i saw a frown at the corner of his lips. That killed me, I wanted nothing more than to please him.
I wanted to prove my worth here.
School had always been a breeze for me, I was a great student with a perfect grade in every class I’ve ever taken, it shouldn’t be this hard for me to connect with students.
Shattering glass pulled me out of my thoughts, and I realized a girl had dropped a beaker.
“Everyone can leave, I’m ending this early,” I directed. Glancing at the clock it stung to realize I’d only made it two thirds of the way into a three hour lab. I couldn’t even finish one course. The class moved quicker and happier than I’d seen them in the last two hours, emptying the room within a minute.
Grabbing a broom from the corner of the classroom, I slowly swept up the glass and mess from the floor. It wasn’t the best way to start a teaching career, but I didn’t want to let this dishearten me. I had one other three hour lab to attempt my hand at, and then I was done.
Gathering the beakers and vials, I rinsed them and then set them in the small dishwasher she had in the corner. This isn’t’ what I pictured classes to be like.
I mean, sure, I’ll eventually be teaching middle school, but being able to stand in and hold my own is still an important skill. I couldn’t hold back on that.
After I was done cleaning, there were still ten minutes left before the next class would come in.
I worked to set everything back up for them, the gloves and goggles, the beakers and vials, the papers. It was my second chance and I was going to do my best at it. Feeling eyes on me, I glanced to the doorway.
Rick was standing there.
“How are things?” he asked, even though he obviously already knew.
“They’re awful,” I admitted. “How long have you been teaching?”
“For around fifteen or so years,” he stepped into the room towards me. Exhausted, I sat down in the chair behind Mrs. Jordan’s desk.
“Was it hard for you in the beginning?”
“No,” he answered immediately. I wanted to laugh at this, at how terrible I was at this job, but Instead I just shook my head and smiled sadly.
“Why am I so bad at this?” I asked, not entirely wanting an answer.
“It might be a confidence problem,” he offered.
“Yeah?” I wasn’t completely sold on that. It is easier to just think there was something wrong with me that the kids could see. Maybe teaching wasn’t the right job for me after all.
“Look,” he moved closer to me, “I can see you want to do well at this job, but you need to show that you’re capable.” The words stung, and I averted my eyes. His hand cupped my chin, moving my face to look up at him, and the touch was electric. “You need to be more confident, if they can question you, they will,” he explained. There was something in his eyes that left me feeling lost and wanting.
He moved his hand from my face, and my skin was cold in missing him.
A student walked in for the next class, and Rick stepped another step back from me.
“If you need anything, I’ll be in the next room,” he repeated that he’d offered me earlier.
“I know,” I nodded.
This was awful.
I wanted him to stay, though. I wanted him in the room with me, to guide me through all the things I was doing wrong, all the things I still needed to understand. My heart trusted him immediately, like some kind of fate, but I couldn’t be sure why. I’d never been in a serious relationship, but I could see myself trying that with him.
I could see myself trying a lot of things with him.
My face went hot with embarrassment again, and I tried to remind myself that my students were coming in. I didn’t need to have those kinds of thoughts about him! He was at least fifteen years older than me, a coworker at this point, and way, way, way too mature. There’s no way he’d go for someone who looks like she just got out of high school yesterday.
Biting the inside of my cheek, I stood up behind the desk, and waited for the rest of the second class to file in.
This class was going to be different.
I had to prove to him I could do this.