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  • The Dragon Lady and I stepped out of our cars at the same time: she quickly and with purpose, oblivious to the parking lot; me reluctantly, cognizant of the comforting radio shutting down with my twisting keys, the forty degree gusts of rain, the lack of caffeine in my blood.

    Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip. I admired her ability to navigate her whole day in heels, in her fifties, no less. She stuck to the pavement; I hit the dirt, reaching the door first in my clogs.

    I opened the door for her, a bit self-consciously, becoming aware that I had awkwardly passed through the threshold before her (Will she judge me for this?). "Good morning," I said, with a smile, warming up for my day.

    Briskly, she passed me. "And how are you this morning?" She said it just as loudly as necessary, but it came out harsh.

    “Oh, fine,” I replied, an automatic response, but preceded by a fatal moment of hesitation.

    Her rebuttal was flippant. “You’d have to be fine,” she said quickly, in a voice full of malice and dismissal, “you only work part-time.”

    Stunned, I stupidly felt a need to explain myself. “Well, I am a bit stressed. I don’t have a job for next year.”

    She turned on me and locked eyes with me for the first time. And somehow, she seemed even more dismissive. “Plenty of full-time teachers don’t even have jobs – “ and just as she started in on me, a student of mine materialized in the doorway, demanding my attention instantly. I was grateful for his lack of boundaries as the Dragon Lady quickly panned away.

    I was seething for a couple of hours. What right did she have to tell me that I was “lucky”? I have been working with a smile, but without a contract, for three years now, building up relationships with kids only to teach them for a day or two, maybe a week if I am lucky. I’ve been building relationships with teachers, schools, and parents, volunteering and coaching, only to be ripped away at the mere prospect of something permanent.

    Her insult colored my day grey, but I carried on, smiling, requesting, thanks-ing, clarifying, reminding. I imagined the Dragon Lady in her classroom, locking her door as soon as she entered to avoid all non-contracted student interactions, emerging occasionally to admonish nearby classes for being too loud. And I realized I didn’t want to accept the mood she had given me.

    I should have remembered my #1 rule for substitute teaching; don’t take it personally.

    I wish now, instead of returning her insult with a complaint of my own, indulging her in a delicious cycle of one-upping negativity, i had paid compliment to my highly-valued (if temporary) job.

    So here’s my “take 2” comeback: “I am grateful for all of the work that I can get.”
    Because this is true. This is the useful truth: the truth that motivates, that nourishes, that rewards. I want a good future.

    Maybe I won’t get a teaching job for next year, but, if I do, I know I will enjoy it more than you like yours. And, if I don’t, I will find another place to invest my smiles.
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