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By the Spoonful

By Sarah Bigham

It was the cereal bowl that pushed her past the brink, with its bloated remnants of bran flakes clinging to the rim and the spoon, mocking her. 

* * *

Why the hell do you want to be a teacher? You’ll never make any money.

Business. That’s the ticket. Change your major, kid.

You’re really smart. Won’t you be bored?

* * *

Alana, due at school in well under seven hours, scrunched her face and counted back to when she would have to set the alarm. 

Morning walk? Ditch it. 

Shower? Definitely, but use time-saving dry shampoo. 

News scan while slamming back the first mug of coffee for the day? Skip the news. Keep the coffee, but pour it in a travel mug. 

          Breakfast? Yes. Starting the day with a healthy meal was this year’s start-of-school resolution. Organic cereal topped with blueberries would take a few minutes to assemble and inhale. Toss the bowl in the sink while running out the door. No time for the mindful eating a teacher across the hall told Alana had led to her “effortless” 30 pound weight loss.


* * *

            Teachers have so much time off. I wish I did. You’re so lucky.

            How hard can it be? Seems like a sweet deal to me.

            When I retire, I’m going into teaching. My career is way too stressful.

* * *

The migraine twinge began before lunch. 

After the gate to the employee parking lot malfunctioned, again, and Alana wedged her 14-year-old car into a semi-legal slot on a neighborhood side street. 

And the copiers went down, making the earliest hope for handouts the end of the week. Unless she paid to make them at the office supply place across town. Which she would do that night. Thank god most everything else she needed for teaching this week was available electronically. But how much time staring at screens was really good for a person, let alone a child? Ponderings for another time.

And the drenching started. September was highlighting global warming with a series of scorchers. Not ideal in a building constructed decades ago without central air. Alana and colleagues purchased and lugged in industrial fans to move sauna-like air within their rooms, but by 8 a.m. Alana could feel the sweat soaking her bra. Each class period brought a new group of students, all with a sheen, growing riper by the hour, especially those hoofing it in from the portables.

And Caesar missing the bus. Again. 

And Toni also coming in late, the pinched look of hunger on her face. Alana quietly tapped her fingertips on the supply cabinet. The second drawer held breakfast bars and other food. Alana’s students knew that anyone was welcome to partake. Sometimes, you just needed something to eat. And the need was high this year with stock already running low. Time for another unfunded Costco run. 

And Antoine having trouble focusing today. His usual classroom aide was out sick, so there was sub, a well-meaning but ineffectual grandmotherly sort who was unprepared for large, sweaty teenagers with reading comprehension so low it could make you cry.

And Michelle’s anxiety, palpable across the room, reflecting what her classmates felt, as they prepared for yet another day of their K-12 existence spent in mandatory standardized testing. 

And Darius, whose multiple concussions left him susceptible to mood swings, breaking down in homeroom. With an arm around the sobbing, heaving student, Alana called for the school counselor. It would not be her last call that day.

* * *

You can’t possibly be referring to my son. He wouldn’t do that. I’m calling the principal.

My taxes pay your salary! I’m outraged and posting this online now. 

You clearly don’t know what you’re doing. I’m texting the school board.

* * *

The emails, voicemails, texts, notes, and messages from parents, students, colleagues, and administrators had all been answered. The grading was done. The lessons for tomorrow were finalized, aligned with the core learning objectives du jour. The mandatory online employee assessment of school shooter preparedness had been completed. The prep work for tomorrow’s team meeting on supporting students with special needs was finished. And the rent had been paid, along with this month’s student loan installments.

Someday, she hoped for a home of her own with a yard for a hypothetical dog. 

Someday, she might look into that Japanese folding system to organize her life. 

Someday, she would not stay awake through the early morning hours assembling small gifts for her students, carting them in to give out before the winter break. But that wouldn’t happen any time soon. Not since Lonny Peach wandered into her classroom his senior year and told her, earnestly, that it was the best gift anyone had ever given him. 

Someday, she would not be staring at a dirty cereal bowl at 12:43 a.m., in tears because she just could not bear to wash it, to take care of one more thing, to face the realization that her years of education and training had somehow turned into this. 

Because someday she would not be a teacher.

Sarah Bigham is the author of Kind Chemist Wife: Musings at 3 a.m. She lives in Maryland with her wife, three independent cats, an unwieldy herb garden, several chronic pain conditions, and near-constant outrage at the general state of the world tempered with love for those doing their best to make a difference. Find her at

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