After graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree in education, in June of 1986, I interviewed with a few small school districts in the area.
One interview panel asked if I would move to their little town or if I’d commute from my hometown, a much bigger city of about 300,000. I answered, “Oh, I would live here. I wouldn’t want to drive that far in the snow.” I think they were looking for something more like, “I would live here because I want to be part of the community where I teach.” I didn’t get that position.
I did get an offer from another larger district that served a widespread rural area. It was across the state line from where I’d grown up. At the interview, they explained that, at my salary, I would qualify for low income housing and, conveniently, one of the teachers owned an apartment complex with units available that qualified. They also told me that, contrary to what one might think, there would be more school closures due to mud slides than snow.
During the time between the interview and the offer, the placement officer at my university asked if she could give my information to a district in Southern California that recruited from our highly rated education department. I agreed and was promptly contacted by the elementary school principal. What followed seemed a lot more like her selling me on the district rather than questioning me. We talked for a long time and she explained that their area population was exploding because it was in the middle of nowhere in the Mojave desert and, thus, offered affordable housing. It wasn’t uncommon for parents to drive a couple hours each way to work in L.A., which was referred to as ‘down below’ to the residents of the high desert, as far north as one could go and still be in Los Angeles County. She knew she’d have openings for teachers once kids showed up the first week of school or maybe sooner. We agreed to keep in touch.
When the mudslide district called and offered me a position, I told the superintendent that I was in talks with a district in Southern California and asked if I could have a couple days to decide. In a very irritated tone, he replied, “Of course they’re going to offer you a job. They’re desperate for teachers right now. Let me know tomorrow because we need to offer this opening to someone else if you don’t want it. You are our first choice.”
I called the principal in So Cal back and explained my situation. She said, “We’ll hire you. Until a position opens, we’ll pay you substitute teacher pay daily until you get your own classroom, and you can wait until we have something at the grade level you want.” I agreed. Just talking with her, I knew I wanted to work for her. She said, “Are you sure? We need you here in ten days for new teacher orientation. You need to know I’m sitting in my office, looking out the window, and all I see is sand. We really are in the middle of the desert.” I asked, “Where do the kids play at recess?” She had a beautiful laugh and assured me that there was a playground and large grass area for the students. I figured I could live anywhere for one year and California sounded much more exciting than a low-income apartment in the neighbouring state, especially at age 21.
I agreed to begin as a substitute teacher until I could get my own classroom, but she called me the next day and said they’d had a new kindergarten teacher change her mind about moving to California and the spot was mine if I wanted it. I accepted that position and had 10 days to move 1,200 miles.
My dad had recently retired at age 50 after selling his business, which impresses me a whole lot more now that I’m 55! He organized and managed the move, thankfully, because once the reality of the adventure upon which I was about to embark sank in, I was a basket case. I sat in my mom’s lap and cried. And hung out with my friends.
Seven days later, my mom, dad and I departed for California with my meager belongings in a U-Haul trailer. A week later, I lived in a two-bedroom apartment, Casa Bonita, with a roommate who had also just been hired by another district in the same area. He was 6’4″ and over 200 pounds. Think it comforted my parents to leave me with a bodyguard. Dad loaned me money to put a down payment on a little, blue Honda Civic hatchback, which later met its demise between a Suburban and a Cadillac.
My parents left and went to Vegas after stopping by my new place to say goodbye. As they drove away, I felt an excited nervousness that I’d never felt before.
I got my things together for work and headed to my car. I felt like Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air. I was 21 years old and on my way to my own kindergarten classroom!
I was in a hurry because I wanted to stop and buy a pack of cigarettes on my way. I got in the Honda in the carport, put it in reverse, and hit the gas. And took the front end of my car off, hitting the support pole. Still connected on the driver’s side, most of the bumper was on the asphalt.
I heard the scrape and crunch. “No, no, no. Please don’t let this be happening.” I got out of the car, walked around and surveyed the damage. And then I yelled, “NO! NO! NO!” I wanted so badly to reverse time just two minutes.
A guy came out on his second floor deck to see what the hell was going on. By now I was crying and cursing. My new neighbor came down and checked out the damage. I explained that I just bought this car and I’m supposed to be on my way to work. I didn’t even have a phone yet. Landlines only, people. The helpful neighbor told me he knew a guy who could fix it right up for a good deal. He also let me use his phone to call work.
When I explained the events and the results, my principal was so understanding. I assured her my new neighbor knew a guy who could repair it, and she said, “No, no, no. The principal of the middle school is married to an insurance adjuster. We’ll call her and she’ll be over to help you handle this. Don’t let anyone talk you into anything.”
My parents probably hadn’t yet made it to I-15,the freeway to Vegas. I was on my own. I didn’t tell my parents about what happened right after they left for many years. I didn’t have to. So began my independence.