The first year I started teaching, being called “Ms. Pahomov” was kind of a trip. (It was actually the second year of that, but “Frau Pahomov” in Germany didn’t phase me the same way.)
“Do kids really call you that?” My friends couldn’t believe it. It was the biggest sign that I was a Grown-Up Teacher. “Does this mean you have to wear cheesy sweaters to school?”
For the first couple of years, Ms. Pahomov felt like an alternate version of me — and one that took a lot of effort. It seemed there was such a long list of restrictions — better manners, respectable clothing, avoiding profanity… not to mention having to be (only) adult in the room, at the ready if someone freaked out, or fainted, or worse. Ms. Pahomov strove to do all those things well. Larissa got to chill out when the day was over — and then had to plot how Ms. Pahomov would present herself tomorrow.
The turning point in this story is not, “and then I got over it.” I still do feel the pressure of being entrusted with educating our nation’s youth. I consider myself a public servant (although the language of politics and my contract doesn’t necessarily agree with me). I ask them to be their best selves, so I try to be my best self as much as possible.
What I did realize, however, is that teaching at SLA is WAY less restrictive than many jobs that are “kid free.” As some of my friends advance in their selected professions, I watch them struggle with the fact that they are expected to buy into corporate or mainstream society, even if they object to those norms. In my classroom, we have enough space to question the way the world it set up — maybe not through action, but at least through reading and discussion.
Plus, I don’t have to wear a suit, or high heels, or make-up. I don’t have to read from a script (although I know that many teachers do.) I’m not in a cubicle, and we can go outside whenever we want. Yeah, topics X Y and Z are inappropriate, but everything else is totally on the table (and when students start using silly synonyms for sex, I say the word out loud, just to call them on it.) There are also more opportunities to be loving and silly than I ever got in an office setting.
All this, in exchange for being called by my last name? I’ll take it.