Learning to Climb Onto My Soapbox


Friends, I am nothing if not a good girl. A little wild at times, yes. Fun at parties? Absolutely.  Did my parents, friends’ parents, or teachers ever chastise me for this tastefully well-kept secret that probably everyone in our small town knew? No. Why? They never commented because, for all my fun, party-girl ways, I have always kept my crap together. I am polite. I work hard. I’m friendly. I make deadlines every…single…time, and I always give 100% of my best effort. I made good grades in school, played sports, and was the girl next door, smiling and being reliable.

Reliability carried on into my teaching career, and as an adult, I am now even better at keeping my crap together and fifteen balls in the air. I taught seniors who were taking college writing classes…learning to argue effectively, learning to cite sources and draw upon others’ wisdom to craft original arguments (I once made a kid rewrite an entire paper because the thesis statement she came up with was, “Smoking is bad for you.” Ack…) In short, I was a tough teacher, but I think (hope) parents appreciated their children being in my class. I was hard-nosed, fair, and wasn’t afraid to bust the “Oh my gosh, Mrs. T, I’ve never made a ‘B’ in my whole life” chops of some very-smart-but-needed-a-reality-check seniors. I *think* they appreciated that effort. Never did I once slap a grade on something that I had not read. I usually showed up to work with a relatively positive attitude, tortured my students, and kept my head down.

Enter a new principal at the high school where I taught. When the new school year came, she put me, for some reason that I will never fully fathom, on the “trouble teacher” list. In my whole life up to that point, being on the “trouble” list had never happened. In the 3rd grade, I once had to pull two cards, yellow and red, for doing my homework under my desk, and the heaving, sobbing flood of tears– “I was still listening to the lesson, Mrs. Holland!”–made my teacher feel so bad as I repeated what she had been discussing that she didn’t even tell my parents.

So, imagine my dismay when I emailed my new principal that I had, wonder of wonders, been called to try out to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, and she immediately called me to her office over the school-wide loudspeaker like a 9th grader who had just been caught hurling spit balls at her teacher. I bounced into the office, blissfully unaware of how far down the “trouble” list I was.

Me: Hi, Mrs. S_____! I’m so excited about this opportunity! Isn’t it great?

Mrs. S: (Stone faced.) Yes, Carrie, please tell me again the date on which you plan to…audition. (Sour lemon face now. And she looked down her nose, over her glasses at me. Imagine Harry Potter’s Delores Umbridge giving innocent Carrie the stink-eye…)

Me: August 16. I know it’s a bad date for me to be gone because of the yearbook pictures, but I have worked out a perfect sub plan.

In a flurry of what can only be described as blatant disregard for the good publicity that, I don’t know, a teacher going on a nationally-televised game show may garner as well as creating positive vibes all over our county and middle Tennessee, Mrs. S. said…no.

Me: Come again?

Mrs. S: I’m not going to sign the paperwork for you to be gone that day. You’re the yearbook advisor. It’s like if I said, as the principal, that I would be gone on graduation day. It’s simply not an option. I’m sorry. I’m not going to let you take this as a personal day.

Friends, something welled up inside me at that point. In front of me was irrational injustice. In front of me was a human being who technically had jurisdiction over my career, and yet…I did not care. All my life I had been taught to respect authority, and I did, and I still do…but that day…I couldn’t let this go. I was not some teenager who had been denied permission to go to a party by my parents. I was an adult. An adult with the chance of a lifetime to go try out for something that would probably never come again. Would the world have ended if I didn’t try out for Wheel of Fortune? No. Would I have always wondered what would have come of that chance if I hadn’t taken it. Absolutely. So, I did the only thing I could do. I stood up to her.

Me: (heart pounding in chest and trying to control my shaking hands) Mrs. S., I appreciate the difficult situation that my absence will put you in on picture day, but I am simply not going to pass up the chance to be on Wheel of Fortune. Can you not see that this would be good for our school? Can you not see that attempting to prevent me from trying is going to make your already low approval rating drop even more? I’m sorry, Mrs. S….no wait. I’m not sorry. I’m an adult. I’m going to try out for Wheel of Fortune, and I’m extending you the professional courtesy of letting you know in advance. I will not be here on August 16. I will be in Knoxville, trying out for something I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life. And you’re not going to stop me.

Silence. (In the ensuing silence, we stared each other down like gunslingers at the OK Corral. I had spoken my edict, and I would be damned if I was the next person to speak.)

More silence.

Mrs. S. decided, in a huff (since she wasn’t going to change this immature girl’s mind), to sign my paper for me to take a personal day instead of a sick day. I. FREAKIN’. WON.

Mrs. S. and I went a few more rounds in the next two years, and I may even write about them someday. But friends, this was the day that I learned to get up on my soapbox and stand up for myself. It was new to me, and pretty scary at times (i.e., I didn’t exactly want get fired for insubordination), but it felt good. Before, I rolled my eyes and went with the flow. But no more. I climbed up on my soapbox to stay. I’ll tell you what I think, even if it isn’t popular.

And this had a happy ending, even though I’ve always wondered if she was the one person… in the whole list of people who know me, once knew me, and who maybe met someone who knew me in a bar that night and cheered me on, too…who may not have been rooting for me. I’m just not sure, and she sure as hell never congratulated me after the fact.

But I do thank her for backing me into a corner and forcing me up onto that soapbox. It’s a lesson I wouldn’t have learned any other way.