The ugly truth about teaching

I am a teacher.

TV and movies make teaching look like such an instantly rewarding job. But they don’t warn you just how much of the job sucks. And I mean epic sucking.

I first discovered that maybe teaching wasn’t the best career on the planet when my first-year newspaper staff staged a coup against me. They lost, but it was pretty unpleasant for a while there. They made t-shirts to protest against me and everything.

Once that issue was out of the way, I thought it was going to be smooth sailing. My kids liked me, and I figured out that I was, despite feeling like I had no clue what I was doing, actually a pretty good teacher.

But there’s so much that they don’t prepare you for when you’re in college education classes.

Like the vomit.

Remember when you were in school and a kid would get sick in class—and complete and utter anarchy would ensue? Well when you’re the teacher, you have to DEAL with that situation.

The first time that happened to me, I wasn’t remotely prepared to deal with it. A girl in my class started throwing up, and the room was filled with this horrible, banshee-like scream. Which I eventually realized was coming from me.

Because I was the teacher, everyone looked at me to do something. So when I stopped screaming, I did the first thing I could think of: I grabbed a trashcan and put it in front of her, so she’d stop throwing up on the floor.

Unfortunately, aim can be tricky when it comes to projectile vomit, and she missed the trashcan entirely, hitting the desk across the aisle from her instead. At this point my entire class ran out of the room. Several of the kids were never heard from again.

They don’t warn you about that in teacher school.

They also don’t prepare you for the inappropriate reactions that kids can have. A boy insulted a girl in my class one time. They were literally in opposite corners of the room when it happened, and the girl responded by spitting a wad of gum the size of my fist across the room at him with such flawless aim that it landed right on his forehead, where it stuck.

The whole class froze for what seemed like an hour while he processed what had just happened, then everyone erupted, taking immediate sides in the battle royale that was about to break out.

I pulled the offending girl out in the hall before the kids could kill each other, but was then faced with a new dilemma: what do you SAY to a girl who spat a massive chunk of gum across an entire classroom? Good aim? Can you teach me how to do that? I wound up just sitting on the floor next to her and asking her to not spit her gum anymore.

But I have to say, she might have been on to something; I never heard anyone insult her ever again after that incident.

But there’s one thing about teaching that makes it all worthwhile: I can use all the stuff that happens as material for my next book!

Oh and there’s the whole educating the youth of America thing. I guess that’s important too. If you’re into that kind of thing.

The scariest five words in the English language: The First Day of School

The first day of school.

No five words in the English language can fill me with such a sense of panic as those do. Well, except for “Bruce Springsteen died earlier today.” When I hear THOSE five words for real, odds are pretty good that I’ll be taking a bath with a hair dryer.

When I was younger, I dreaded school so much that my dad used to have to throw me over his shoulder and carry me there, kicking and screaming.

And by younger, I mean last week when teachers had to go back to school.

Poor dad.  He’s getting too old to carry me there.

It’s absolutely the worst day of the year. Not because it’s actually THAT bad, but because it marks the longest possible amount of time before summer vacation.

Starting school comes with its own special brand of dread for me: bulletin boards. I would rather gnaw off my own limbs than set up a bulletin board. Literally. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m bulletin-board challenged.  If there was a class for setting up bulletin boards, I’d have to go to it on the short bus.  I painted my whole condo all by myself, but somehow putting construction paper on a bulletin board and arranging a display on it is beyond me.

Luckily, my newspaper students have started volunteering to help me set up my room during the week before kids have to come back.  (And by volunteering, I mean that I send them frantic emails all summer begging for help until I wear them down enough to agree to come in). They walk in, I show them proudly whatever I managed to put up on the bulletin boards all by myself, and they unfailingly say, “Oh, that’s so cute! You tried!” Then they pull it all down and start again. But at least the room looks good by the time the rest of the kids come back.

The night before the first day of school might as well be called “National Insomnia Night.” I’m a troubled sleeper under the best of circumstances. With the first day of school looming, I don’t even know why I bother getting in bed. But even if I DO manage to fall asleep, it doesn’t last long, as I have to get up in the middle of the night to get to work on time.

Waking up early again, after a summer of sleeping late, is torture. I know that those of you who work all summer are feeling zero sympathy for me right now, but high school starts at 7:25am. In other words, right around when you nine-to-fivers are waking up, I’m already teaching first period.

The first day of school is infinitely worse for teachers than for students. Students basically just have to show up and listen on the first day of school. Teachers have to spend most of the first day talking, then memorize approximately 150 names. I have the worst memory on the planet when it comes to names. Literally. If you meet me for the first time, I promise that within 30 seconds of meeting you, I’ve forgotten your name. The only exception to this is if you’re wearing a nametag, or you’re REALLY hot. Otherwise, if I’m going to see you again, I have to ask someone who was with me what your name was.

Now multiply that by 150.

Luckily most of the kids in my classes are named Madison, Taylor, Brianna, Zach, Tyler, or Brittany. And with the exception of Brianna and Brittany, all of the names are gender neutral. So if I can’t remember a name, I can usually just call one of those, and I’ll be fine.

Of course, none of the names are SPELLED that way.  That’s just how they’re pronounced.

When I was in school, the first day of school meant showing up in a new dress, with a new backpack full of fresh school supplies.

Now, kids don’t usually bother with their backpack on the first day. Instead, they bring their cell phone and ipod. And good luck getting them to shut either off.

It’s also a shift to remember that I’m at work again and therefore can’t use profanity every third word. I admit it. I have a potty mouth. But at school, I HAVE to control it. My mother always likes to remind me that as a teacher, you’re the subject of someone’s dinner table conversation every day of your life.

If you drop an f-bomb in class the first day, I can promise you’ll be the subject of EVERYONE’S dinner table conversation that night. Including your principal’s.

Then, if you make it through the whole day, don’t fall asleep on your feet, learn all the names, and don’t accidentally curse, you have to wake up at the crack of dawn the next day and do it all over again.

Just 184 more school days until summer vacation.


"Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!" "He was a zombie?"

My biggest fear in life isn’t public speaking or death. It’s not even my house burning down with all of my shoes inside (although that is up there as one of my biggest fears… I hope it never comes down to me saving a loved one or my shoe collection because I’m not sure who would win).

It’s zombies.

Yes. Zombies.

Brain-eating, limb-losing, undead zombies.

 Okay, not JUST zombies, but any type of creature like that. For example, I know the monsters in I Am Legend were technically supposed to be vampires. But they were close enough to zombies to scare me.

But Sara, you’re a smart, rational person. Why are you so scared of zombies?

Well, since you ask, I blame my best friend, Ary, for instilling me with this pointless, irrational fear. We both saw 28 Weeks Later around the same time and eventually discussed our reactions. She was terrified by the movie. I was bored.

Then how did I begin to fear zombies?

Easy. My best friend talked me into it.

I was never afraid of them as a child. In fact, I used to take Homer Simpson’s view of the zombie situation (that it was fine if you raised the dead, as long as the car was okay).

But a couple weeks after seeing 28 Weeks Later, Ary and I were staying at my uncle’s beach house, where the bedrooms are all on the first floor, and Ary told me that she was freaked out by how easily zombies could break in while we were sleeping. I laughed and reminded her that zombies didn’t exist.

Somehow, she didn’t find this comforting. So, being the friend that I am, I plotted out an escape route for us in case the zombies DID attack. We would run upstairs, climb up into the attic, pull the trap door in the ceiling shut after us, and wait the zombie attack out up there.

She was satisfied with that plan (because I Am Legend hadn’t come out yet, so it didn’t occur to us that they could get to us from the ceiling!), and we went to sleep.

No problem.

I forgot all about the imminent zombie attack.

Until I was back at the beach house by myself a couple weeks later. And when you’re alone in a big house that zombies could easily break into, they suddenly seem a whole lot scarier.

My brother likes to remind me that I really don’t have to fear zombies. Because I wouldn’t be running from them for long; they’d kill and eat me pretty quickly. I do wear heels most of the time, and I am, after all, not known for my athletic ability. Thanks for the vote of confidence though, Adam… Love you too.

Adam’s point, however mean, is valid. Therefore I realized that I had to research what I would actually have to do if I wanted to survive a zombie attack. For example, if you’re running with someone else, trip them. The zombies will be delayed long enough by this snack in their path to potentially allow you to escape.

Of course, now that I’ve put this plan out there, I just screwed myself over, because anyone I’m running with will now try to trip me. And I’m a klutz. I’ll go down pretty easily.

I should probably warn you, before you decide that I’m completely insane, that I DO know that zombies do not exist. I don’t believe in ghosts or zombies or vampires or anything like that. (Although if Eric Northman from True Blood is real, PLEASE, call me. Seriously. I love you. I’ll be your vampire bride ANY day.)

But here’s the problem with not believing in any of that stuff: if you believe in it, at least you know how to deal with it if you run into it. If I don’t believe in zombies, WTF am I supposed to do if I actually encounter one? I know I’m supposed to run or pull out the chainsaw at that point, and I think I’d run for awhile, but once I ran out of people to trip, I think I’d just give up and be like, “Okay, you’re supernatural. You win. Peace out. Enjoy my brains.”

So be warned, if you’re running from zombies with me, I’m going to try to trip you.  And I don’t care if we’re friends, if you become a zombie, I’m not going to be your friend anymore.  Good for Shaun, from Shaun of the Dead, for staying friends with his bff even after he turned into a zombie.  But I’m not doing that.  If you’re a zombie, we’re done.

And Ary, if you’re scared of anything else, please don’t tell me.

If you call me during Jersey Shore, you’ll be president of the IFF!

I love Jersey Shore.

I’m not proud of this.

But I cannot deny my love for this show.

I don’t watch ANY other reality tv. And I think that’s the point. Jersey Shore is SO far from reality that it deserves its own category on television. I mean, you couldn’t make that stuff up! Oh wait, actually, you could. Okay, you couldn’t REALLY have that stuff happen in real life.

Which is why I love it so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I HATE four of the characters with a passionate and irrational, all-consuming rage. I hope Angelina dies. Like literally. I hope JWoww kills her. I don’t hate anyone in my own life with the vehement fury that I have toward that backstabbing Staten Island whore. But she causes so much drama that I can’t look away.

That’s what the show is. Drama. It’s a trainwreck. But it’s more extreme. Like a train wreck/airplane crash/natural disaster all rolled into one. So imagine an airplane crashing into a train wreck, while an earthquake is occurring, a volcano is erupting, and a tsunami is hitting, while the Hindenburg explodes overhead. THAT, my friends, is the level of ridiculousness that can only be found on Jersey Shore.

 I wish it were on every day.

Although if Sammi takes Ronnie back one more freaking time, I’m going to lose it. I don’t ACTUALLY care if they’re together or not. Honestly. If she’s stupid enough to keep taking him back after the stuff he’s said to her, then she deserves his dumb ass. But I’m worried for the fate of humanity. If those two morons reproduce, the world will end within those children’s lifetimes. I promise. That level of stupidity would bring about the end of the world.

And I know that I’m in the minority here, but I can’t stand Vinny. I don’t get the appeal. I don’t think he’s cute. I don’t think he’s smart. I don’t think he’s funny. And he’s a mama’s boy. I see no redeeming qualities except that unlike Pauly D and the Situation, he’s never hooked up with Angelina. For that alone, I hate him less than the other three characters whom I hate. But he hooked up with the Situation’s sister, and she looks JUST like the Situation, which was super creepy. And I mean that in the skeevy sense, not the hitting on girls sense.

But for how much I despise those four, I love the other four characters in equal measure. (Technically, they’re probably not considered CHARACTERS. But I’m convinced that the show is scripted. Because NO ONE is that dumb. I hope. I really, really, REALLY hope no one is that dumb in real life.)

Snooki is probably the most famous at this point.

I have no idea why.

She’s awful. I know she’s awful. But I can’t help but love her. I love when she does her whiney, “WAAAAAHHHHH,” when things don’t go her way. I love that she wears her hair high enough to double her own, admittedly miniscule, height. I love that Weekend Update compared her to Garfield because she’s fat, bright orange, and loves lasagna.

If anyone else did any of the things she did, I’d probably murder them. But Snooki pulls it off. And I know it’s horrible, but I find it hilarious that she gets her ass kicked so often. Poor Snooki.

Then there’s Pauly D. My favorite Pauly D moment was when he explained to the Gelato Shop owner that his hair doesn’t move when he’s going 150mph on a street bike on the highway, so he doesn’t have to worry about it falling in the ice cream. And he’s proud of that! I could have lived without knowing about his special piercing in the first season, but I still find him hilarious.

My second favorite is JWoww. She’s total white trash. Have you ever checked out her website? It’s awful. Half of it is misspelled, and she’s got a link to her plastic surgeon on there. She actually does. And she sells those crazy, gravity-defying shirts that she wears too. (I’m not gonna lie, I’m tempted to buy one. I’d never wear it in public, but I’d seriously wear it just while watching the show.) I love JWoww though, because she’s a badass. If someone does wrong by her or one of her friends, she’s going to kick their ass. I respect that. And who can forget her drunken confessional session in which she revealed her love for eating ham and drinking water?


And because I saved the best for last, that brings us to The Situation. He’s an arrogant jackass. But he knows it. And, believe it or not, he’s actually the smartest one on the show. He has a much better sense of humor than any of the other cast members, can take it when people make fun of him, and can make fun of himself. I’m not remotely attracted to him, and I wouldn’t hook up with him if we were the last two people on the planet. But I would love to be friends with him. Any guy who can make fun of himself this well, would be fun to be around, even if he IS a misogynistic jerk. And hey, he cooks!

So Thursday nights, between 10 and 11pm, you’d better not call me. Because I’m going to be watching my favorite (and least favorite) guidos and guidettes, with my hair poofed up and an inch-thick layer of bronzer on. And if you interrupt that by creeping on me to ask if I’m DTF, you’re going to replace Ronnie as the president of the IFF. Can I get a fist pump?

You say it’s your birthday…

August 25 is one of the most important dates in history.

No, I’m not narcissistic enough to mean because it’s my birthday. It’s the day Born to Run (the album, not the song) was released in 1975.

 Which was WAY before my time.

But many years later, on the same day, I was born. Call it destiny. (Or call it coincidence if you want to be difficult. I’m going with destiny.)

Yup, that’s me.  At an undisclosed point in the 1980s.

 And don’t worry about how many years later. I was born in the 1980s. We’ll leave it at that for now.

I think the world can be divided into two groups of people: People who love their birthdays, and people who celebrate their birthdays by hiding under their covers in the fetal position hoping that if they hide from their birthday, it will go away.

I am in the second group.

People in the first group don’t understand the second group. And people in the second group hate the first group people. Mostly because people who enjoy birthdays try to inflict celebration on those of us who are trying to hide from acknowledging that we are another year older.

I hate to break it to you birthday enjoyers: we’re not like the Grinch. After you work your magic, we’re not suddenly going to love birthdays. It’s just not in our nature.

My childhood birthdays were usually fairly nondescript. I blame school for this. Kids who have birthdays during the school year get cupcakes and balloons and all kinds of fun stuff. Those of us with summer birthdays miss out. A lot. I think that contributed to my hatred of birthdays.

But as a kid, it wasn’t so bad. At least I never had to go to school on my birthday. And I mean NEVER. My mom actually went into labor with me the day before she was due to start back at school, just as she was on the phone with her sub to say that it looked like she WOULD, in fact, be at school for the first week. I had other plans.

That was also the one and only time in my entire life that I was early for anything. Ever.

My sixteenth birthday was the first one that really sucked. Like every sixteen-year-old girl, I wanted to wake up on the morning of my sixteenth birthday and see a shiny new car, with a big red bow on it, parked in my driveway, waiting for me.

I knew it wasn’t happening. My brother’s bar mitzvah was the following weekend, and my parents had already warned me that I couldn’t expect a car. But I hoped that was a diversionary tactic.

The morning of my sixteenth birthday, I woke up and went to my window. I closed my eyes, making a desperate wish to see a car in the driveway.

And there it was! A red Honda Civic! EXACTLY the car that I wanted!

I felt such joy! I almost cried from sheer happiness.

Then the car backed out of my driveway and pulled away. It had been someone dropping something off for the bar mitzvah.

Then I got my real presents. My mom got me a throw pillow shaped like a car. She thought that was funny. It wasn’t.

 This was when I realized that the Universe hates me.

My twenty-first birthday was even more disastrous.

Well, okay, actually, it was the day AFTER my twenty-first birthday that was so disastrous. I spent about ten hours that day praying to the Porcelain God. But it wasn’t my fault.

No really.

It actually wasn’t.

My doctor (who KNEW I was having a party for my twenty-first birthday because I told him about it) put me on medication that week. And neglected to tell me that it made alcohol two-to-three times stronger. Which explains why the twelve shots that I took almost killed me, because it was really twenty-four to thirty-six shots.

I remember lying on the bathroom floor that day, with my mother, who came over when I told her how sick I was, and crying because I felt so sick, while she kept telling me, over and over again, that I deserved it for drinking so much. She felt pretty bad when we found out it was the medication!

Twenty-two through twenty-four were okay, so I decided to quit while I was ahead. And I have not acknowledged a birthday since twenty-four. Therefore, up until today, I was still twenty-four. It was such a good year that I repeated it. Several times. My brother helped me out though, by agreeing, when he turned twenty-five, to become my older brother instead of my younger brother. Thanks Adam. That’s probably the best birthday present you could ever have given me!

But today, it’s time to turn twenty-five.

I think I’m finally ready.

And if you want to get me a present, order a copy of my book off That’ll make me VERY happy.

But I’m warning you now, if you try to tell me that I’m older than twenty-five, you are not going to make it to YOUR next birthday.

Unless you give me a REALLY good present. My parents gave me the Macbook Pro that I’m writing this on. They can say my real age if they want to. Everyone else, tread carefully!

I missed my true calling: Disney tombstone writer

I think I missed my calling in life.

Now okay, there are several things that I would be totally kickass at (other than teaching). For example, someday I’m going to start my own makeup line. And I do make the world’s BEST chocolate chip cookies. Yes, they’re better than your grandma’s. No, you can’t have the recipe. It’s a secret. I’m really good at gluing rhinestones on stuff (you should see my Bluetooth headset!), and I could easily teach college courses on the Simpsons and/or Bruce Springsteen.

But none of those are truly my calling in life.

Are you ready for it?

I should write the tombstones outside the Haunted Mansion at Disney World.

 Everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE Disney World. I would happily live there. When I’m having a bad day, I always say that I’m going to run away to Disney World and become Belle, or else dye my hair red and be Ariel. And I’m really not kidding. I would love to do that.

The last time I was there, my friends and I spent a whole day (yes, I’m a grown woman who goes to Disney World with her friends and no children. Deal with it.) running around trying to find a suitable Prince Charming to get a picture with. We wanted a shot of him proposing to us. But we learned a sad, sad lesson that day. The guys playing Prince Charming at Disney World are about 12 years old. That and Sleeping Beauty can kinda be a bitch when you want to pose with her man. And Captain Hook is a dirty old man. I’m serious. I was molested. I feel really bad for Peter Pan and all the lost boys after that experience.

The Haunted Mansion has always been one of my favorite rides. Even after it broke down one time and I was stuck in the room with the crystal ball with the chick’s head in it for about half an hour. And even after the time when my dad explained how they do the ghosts that are dancing in the ballroom. He’s a physics professor. He spoils everything magical. But nothing can spoil Disney World for me. Nothing.

I discovered my calling for writing Haunted Mansion tombstones thanks to my brother. Adam said something about Walt Disney being cryogenically frozen. Being the expert on all things Disney, I felt the need to inform him that this wasn’t true.

He didn’t believe me.

So I called upon the greatest website of all time, to prove my point. But somehow Adam still didn’t believe me, despite the fact that I pulled up a picture of Walt Disney’s grave, his death certificate, his will, and a map of the cemetery where he is buried. All from my phone. I love technology.

“Of course he has a grave,” Adam insisted. “They only froze his head.”

“Really?” I sniped back. “What does his tombstone say? Here lies Walt, good and dead. Everything’s here, except his head?”

My family exploded in laughter. Not at me, for once. With me. I think.

This was when I realized that I’d missed my one true calling.

The tombstones they have now are pretty good.

 But they’ve had the same ones since Disney World opened. That was before I was born. It’s time for some new ones.

Here are my suggestions:

(See? It even has a message!)

(Disney would never go for this. But come on, it’s powerful!)

(Too soon?)

And my personal favorite:

(Okay, Disney wouldn’t want to get that controversial. But I love it anyway!)

Yes, I had way too much fun with these. But that’s why it would be my dream job. Anyone have any good ones that I missed?

The only thing worse than the Metro? Driving in DC

I am one of those rare, strange people who enjoys driving in New York City.

There’s an easy explanation for this: I learned to drive in the DC area.

No one is ever going to dispute that New York City drivers are crazy. They are. But they’re the GOOD kind of crazy. They’ll scream at you and give you the finger and zigzag around you in traffic. But they can do all that without ACTUALLY endangering your life. That’s why I say they’re good drivers. They have to be good to drive in NYC without dying. I can identify with that kind of driving. I respect that kind of driving.

But DC drivers are the worst of the worst. Marylanders will argue with you that Virginia drivers are the worst, and Virginians will say Maryland drivers are the worst. But it doesn’t matter where you hail from. If you’re driving in DC, I probably hate you.

 I’m a native Washingtonian, and I love my home city. But as far as traffic goes, it is the worst city in the world. Part of the problem is the city itself. I know it was laid out deliberately to be confusing to anyone who attacked, but honestly, no one who attacks is going to do it by land anymore. It’s as out of date as a walkman.

I still don’t understand why there’s no J Street in DC. Like there’s all kinds of theories about it. But none of them make any sense. Why would you use letters for streets and then leave one out? I mean, I get it if they did it to screw with peoples’ heads. I would be impressed if that was the case. But it’s not. It’s random.

Then there are the traffic circles. I have no problem with traffic circles in general. I understand how they work (if not the need for them), and don’t have a problem navigating them. But 99.999 percent of the population lacks the ability to handle them. Putting the average person in a traffic circle is like putting metal in the microwave; it causes a serious problem and it stinks. And something (in this case, my head) might explode as a result.

Traffic circles DO, however, have one perk. Say someone you hate is crossing through the circle. If you don’t manage to hit them when you try the first time, you can drive around the traffic circle a couple of times to wait for them, and get them when they cross the other side of the circle.*

(*Note: I am not responsible for any legal repercussions if you do this. I’m only telling you for entertainment purposes. Or in case Dan Snyder is crossing Dupont Circle. No Redskins fan jury will
find you guilty. Go for it. You may even get a medal.)

 I have seen more stupidity from people driving in DC, however, than in any other area of my life. And I’m a teacher. There literally used to be a sign on Constitution Avenue that said “Red means stop.” Really? Are there REALLY people driving who don’t know that? Don’t you think there’s a bigger problem if you need a sign like that?

The DC government knows that its drivers suck. That’s why they have a law against talking on a cellphone without some kind of hands-free device while driving.

 In theory, this law is great and could save lives. In theory.

But this law has a side effect (one that even I have been guilty of). You’re driving in DC and your phone rings. You’re not sure where you’re going (and your navigation system is useless in DC because sometimes there are two streets with the same name, but one is in NW and one is in SW and there’s no distinguishing between the two on your nav system—been there, done that, felt like an idiot), and you need to talk to the person calling you so that you can find out where to go.

But you can’t find your headset.


This leads to the frantic scramble to find it before the phone stops ringing. During this panicked digging through your purse/center console/backseat/glove compartment, you wind up paying less attention to the road than you would be if you were texting while driving.

In desperation, you look around for somewhere to pull over so that you can call your friend back.

HAHAHAHA that doesn’t exist in DC! What are you? A tourist?

Then, you finally decide that you HAVE to break the law so that you don’t spend the rest of your life driving around the city aimlessly looking for streets that don’t exist. So you answer your phone, but you have to keep your head low, to avoid getting a ticket if a cop sees you. And at this point, if you’re still alive and haven’t crashed your car, you’re probably going to get pulled over anyway for weaving all over the place like you were drunk.

Again, in theory, it’s a great law.

But it doesn’t help with the idiots who think they’re still on the Metro and are reading the newspaper while driving! (I’ve seen it! I mean, who still reads a real paper newspaper these days, let alone WHILE DRIVING? And they’re worried about people talking on their phones?)

Then again, maybe the bad driving and the horrible street layout is part of a plan to make DC more green. I know that I’m more likely to take the Metro than drive there, because I fear for my life every time I cross the border from Maryland into DC. But then again, if that was true, wouldn’t Metro service be better to encourage people to take it?

Like the mystery of J street, I guess there are just some questions without answers.