It's a common word, something you see every day...
E-M-B-A-R-R-A-S-S-E-D, embarrassed. That's what I felt when I was eliminated from my school's inaugural spelling bee in the first round. I was also I-N-F-U-R-I-A-T-E-D, infuriated, because I never wanted to be a part of the competition in the first place. As I saw it, spelling bees were not potential pathways to academic glory but rather protracted exercises in dodging humiliation. You hang in there as long as you can, take your best guess when necessary, and wipe the sweat from your brow when someone else gets knocked out on a word you didn't know, either. That's under the best circumstances. At the other end of the spelling bee spectrum is the real possibility of making a shameful mistake and inducing self-inflicted P-S-Y-C-H-O-L-O-G-I-C-A-L T-R-A-U-M-A, psychological trauma.
Despite my reluctance, I had trudged up to the stage with the rest of the seventh and eighth graders and haplessly plopped down onto my assigned folding chair. The gymnasium seemed uncomfortably full, mostly due to the presence of the rest of the student body and what seemed like the entire faculty and staff. That included my mother, who worked in the office. She gamely chalked up my lack of enthusiasm to the general pattern of surly behavior that was emerging in my early teens. I imagine that she was glad to be there. I just wanted to be anywhere else.
Kneeling at the altar where one day their children would be served tater tots.
A big cafeteria. That's what you need if you're planning on running an institution that teaches children from first through eighth grade. St. Gerard, my elementary and middle school alma mater, met that requirement with room to spare. As a little kid, our cafeteria seemed like a cavernous space, an immense and spare rectangular room so large that its flat and featureless ceiling was supported by more than half a dozen pillars. If the prospect of attending a school that included students twice your height and age didn't already make you feel small, being herded into the cafeteria for the first time erased any vestiges of pride.
For a hall that admitted plenty of sun through great windows along its length, the St. Gerard cafeteria was run with chilling efficiency. To this day, if I were to walk through its far entrance, I could show you the exact path that we were expected to follow as we wound along the perimeter in single file toward the serving area. There we would pick up the molded plastic trays upon which a small group of cafeteria ladies - some nice, others indifferent, and a few downright intimidating - would deposit the various components of the day's meal. We picked up our milk last, dutifully inserting the half-pint carton into its designated tray compartment, and proceeded toward the seating area.
If I look wooden and stupid, there's a good reason. Besides being wooden and stupid.
It neither bothers me nor excites me to be photographed. You won't see me rushing to insert myself in a hastily posed group picture, nor will you hear me begging to be excused from becoming the subject of an unexpected snapshot. Like most people, I appreciate a portrait that makes me look good and wince at those that do the opposite. But whether my likeness is captured thousands more times or never again, it's pretty much all the same to me.
However, there is one photographic ritual that I have always disliked, and that is the annual taking of school photographs. I don't recall enjoying the experience much when I was a student, and I have no enthusiasm for it as a teacher. Now in my tenth year as an educator, I have learned to simply grin and bear it. And that is exactly what I appear to be doing in most of my teacher portraits: grinning and bearing it.