The Accidental Teacher: An Essay and Memoir (Part 2)

1986 was my rookie year. All these years later, I’m still in the teaching game. You could easily refer to me as a grizzled veteran without running the risk of exaggerating. You might also call me an old crank. I’ll answer to pretty much anything.

All these years of experience have provided me with ample opportunities to think about my profession, and I’ve even had an insight or two while doing all this cogitating. For one, it seems that there are basically two types of teachers: Those who chose to get into the profession and those who happened into it by sheer accident. This second bunch I call “Accidental Teachers.” As the title of my essay and memoir makes clear, I certainly consider myself a member of the latter group.

Not long ago, during a Thanksgiving get together, I had a conversation with Betty, the wife of one of my cousins. Several months prior to this talk she had completed her degree in education and was now teaching at Central High School in San Angelo, Texas. She told me all about how her new job was going, what her students were like, and stuff like that. She also revealed that she had always dreamed of being a teacher. When I heard her say this last bit, about she’d always wanted, from the cradle onward, to stand up in front of students and spout, I felt momentarily dumbstruck. It was because her experience was so different from my own. Once this first feeling passed, I felt as if I wanted to congratulate her. She had dreamed of doing the very thing she had ended up doing. I would imagine that’s a pretty rare accomplishment in these United States of America, which might explain why so few people are really happy about the work they do.

Unlike Betty, I had not always (or even ever) wanted to work in the classroom. I had grown up wanting to learn, though, and I owe several members of my family a huge debt for having helped me become the curious person I’ve always been. First of all, there’s my mother, a woman who brought me into this world and then proceeded to carry me around when I was a wee tyke. While doing so, she would point at things and help me really see them for the first time. She would then tell me what these objects were called. I am almost certain this is why I later became so intrigued by words and language and such. Secondly, my father, the dreamy artist and philosopher, helped me learn about the power of the mind and the will to create new and beautiful things. From him, I learned quiet introspection and deep observation. Thirdly, my maternal grandfather, a man now dead for many years, instilled in me a love of current events. He was an opinionated fellow who loved to reason and make arguments. Even though he had little formal education, I still, to this very day, think of him as one of the most influential people I’ve even known as far as my intellectual development is concerned. For example, he instilled in me a deep fascination with politics and international affairs.

These individuals prepared me well to enter school and do well once I got there. I grew up a pretty capable kid, and then I went off to college and fell in love with studying all manner of esoteric subjects. It was this fascination which became a double-edge sword. It both set me free and left me enslaved.

One of the Weirdest Experiences of My Life

My life has undergone a radical transformation since the last time I posted here. I left Egypt, my home for the past seven years, flew back to Georgetown, Texas, and then moved in with my family. All this in an attempt to restart my life in the United States.

For a bit more than a month, I had to live apart from Azza, my Egyptian wife, while she awaited her green card interview with a bureaucrat in the American embassy in downtown Cairo. Federal law requires the authorities to do a face-to-face chat with potential new immigrants to see if they harbor any criminal aspirations or political ill will toward the land about to accept them into its fold. Azza did her interview with her usual aplomb and charmed the person she spoke with, proving, in the process, that America had nothing to fear if she packed her bags and moved there. (Her gift of gab is only surpassed by her skills in the kitchen.) As a result, the American government made her the proud owner of a permanent resident visa.

Azza and I now share a guest bedroom in Georgetown, and I’m busily looking for work. When I’m not sending out résumés and pounding the proverbial pavement, my wife and I spend our days going to thrift shops and rummaging around at garage and estate sales. The buys we’ve been making are meant to supplement the shipment we having coming in from overseas. Said container of personal items consists of forty-two boxes, some of them nearly the size of an old-fashioned Volkswagen Bug.

This brings me to the subject of this blog. This past weekend we drove to an estate sale located in a part of Georgetown I was totally unfamiliar with. We parked, walked up to the front door, and entered, only to find a domicile full of people pawing over the contents of the place. Azza and I separated and I headed toward one of the back bedrooms which was mostly filled with all sorts of Christmas stuff—Santa Clauses, tree ornaments, and the like, all piled up on card tables. I moved deeper into the room and found myself standing in front of a closet with its door open. I looked into it, and my eyes were immediately drawn toward a stuffed animal—a “plush” as collectors and pickers like to say—in the shape of Snoopy of Charlie Brown fame.

The Snoopy was completely covered with writing. As I looked closer, I could see that the toy had been autographed by dozens of people. I was shocked to see names I remembered from my elementary school days—I grew up in Georgetown before moving off to college and then farther afield. I then noticed, to my shocked amazement, my own name amongst the others and nearly had an out-of-body experience as soon as I made the discovery.

I took the plush in hand and carried it to the woman sitting at the cash register located near the front door. “Who lived in this house?” I asked her.

“The Simmons family, long-time residents of Georgetown,” she told me.

“Wow!” I said, and then I showed her Snoopy and my own signature on the dog’s head.

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, a classmate named Barry Simmons was burned in a house fire. His injuries were horrific, and he missed months of school while he was recovering. During his absence, our class bought a stuffed animal—the Snoopy I found and purchased at the estate sale—signed it, and gave it to him as a way of showing that he was in our thoughts. So, for the price of two dollars, I now own a little piece of my boyhood history.

This blog is my latest telling of this story. Everyone who hears it finds it as unlikely as I do.

I’m not a superstitious sort, but I’m hoping that the finding of Snoopy is some kind of sign, one suggesting that Azza and I are about to begin a period of many wonderful occurrences and good fortune.