(Originally published in the San Diego Reader May 13, 2015.)
When I open the door to Room 315, I receive a standing ovation from kids I’ve never met before. They stand around clusters of desks, some clapping and smiling, others just clapping and staring. After the clapping has stopped, a girl standing at the desk cluster nearest me recites a welcome speech. In her speech, she points out the chair at the front of the room that has been designated for me. A colorful piece of paper has been taped to its front. The paper reads: “This Chair is For Ms. Salaam. Keep calm and keep on READING. Keep on writing!”
I’m touched by the enthusiastic welcome and nervous about living up to whatever hype the teacher has generated around my visit. But this is my ninth and final classroom visit to the school, and I survived the first eight, so I think I’ll be okay.
I nodded a lot
At the beginning of the 2014/’15 school year, I committed to volunteering one afternoon per week in my daughter’s classroom. I showed up exactly one time. And then, for three consecutive weeks, I called the teacher, apologizing for my busy schedule. After that, I forgot all about my initial commitment for a good seven months.
In March, during a meeting with the principal to discuss my daughter’s education, I was struck with the sudden desire for him to think I’m smart.
“Blah blah blah professional writer,” I said, “but I also used to be a teacher so I totally get the blah blah blah.”
He responded with something about me coming back and talking to some classes about my job, to which I nodded a lot and said, “Yes, yes. Of course. No problem. Just let me know.”
Despite my eagerness to please, I questioned what I’d gotten myself into when he cc’d me on an email sent to every single teacher at the school. In it, he explained that he’d found a parent willing and available to come talk to their students about writing or hold a writing workshop or whatever they needed.
When I told my husband, he shook his head and grimaced with glad-I’m-not-you empathy. “What’re you going to do?” he asked.
“I’m going to hope no one responds,” I said.
But they did.