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  • Writer's pictureCherie Calletta

The housework daily: Working, but not from home

High school teachers who begin their careers in elementary school will learn skills that they will carry through to the rest of the grades. (Courtesy Photo)

I’m working outside the home again. After I’d passed the two-week timeframe following my COVID-19 vaccination, I finally ventured out … COVID Persephone awakened to doctors, shops, local businesses, friends. Now, finally, back to teaching.

Today, Cheryl Mendelson is in her early 70s. In her book Home Comforts, she relates the responses of women one generation ahead of her, who tended to be fulltime homemakers. They would tell her in a rather resentful tone, “You cannot have the house and the career, too.”

Either being a fulltime homemaker or having a career out in the world was the consolation prize: hard to tell which, in Mendelson’s case. Like me, she too had a “war in her members,” and wanted to do it all.

Gentle Reader, I tell you: we cannot have it all. If we try to do both, we will do a poor job at either, and reduce ourselves to a puddle of water, with a disposition that would make the Wicked Witch of the West look like Shirley Temple.

I was promised the oldest kids.

I was assigned third grade.

I was very unsure about this until I remembered the movie A Christmas Story and realized that Ralphie was a third grader, which is quite possibly the ideal age of a human being. Pubescent angst and sullen teenaged tension have not kicked in yet; they are still of an age where they want to please you but are old enough to carry on an intelligent conversation. “Boys and girls, now we will practice walking with our hands folded in front of us!” Third Graders, beaming up at you: “OK!”

Try that with high school or even middle school. Go on, I double dog dare you.

There is one other thing that I had suspected long ago, but now I am convinced that this approach should be universal: all high school teachers should begin their careers as elementary teachers. The skills you learn at that level will carry you through to the rest of the grades. You can add the content specialties later, but elementary teachers are the ones who really have to know how to teach kids.

One observation hard to miss is that pandemic-induced isolation does bad things to your stamina and energy levels. When I say “my feet are killing me,” I mean they are putting the rest of me through some kind of energy meat grinder and cheerfully running the wheels. I never anticipated how a year and a half of staying in the house, with very limited activity can really slow a person down. I can’t even blame my age, because the other teachers I work with are younger, some much younger, and they have the same complaints: exhaustion with the slightest of tasks.

My daily To-Do Lists, which I keep faithfully in a marble composition notebook, have gone from 20 items a day to 10, to five and finally, now there are only two entries: “School. Sleep.”

A person really cannot do it all. If you try to do it all you will likely ruin your health or at least your disposition. The kitchen towels were indeed laundered, and dried. They are ready to be folded. And they can stay ready till the weekend. (No, actually, they can wait there till Judgement Day if I feel like sleeping instead.)

I am also doing a mixture of online and in person teaching. This is not easy. I had been casually watching and sympathetically listening from the sidelines last year when other teachers and parents were discussing the same things, and daily I thought, “Oh boy, am I glad that’s not me!”

It’s me now. Oh, boy.

You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to figure out virtual classroom software on the job, with in-person kids in front of you and six times as many students and parents gazing at you from “Hello, out there in TV land.”

One online mother must have seen the tension in my eyes…that was all she could see, because I am masked. All they could see were my eyes.

She was extremely kind: “Don’t worry, sister…we’ll figure it out. It’ll be OK.”

It will be OK, because of people like her.

Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She graduated Saint Joseph High School in 1977, then graduated from Rutgers College in New Brunswick and went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002, where she and her husband make their home.


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