I idled by the door of my 12th grade co-op class, peering inside hesitantly. Was I in the right place?
The students in this class were not my usual university bound classmates. In the front row there was a group of girls doing each other’s blush, eyeliner and mascara, even though they were already wearing too much makeup to begin with. There was a group of guys smoking out the window. Whatever they were smoking certainly didn’t smell like cigarettes. In the back corner there was a couple heavy into a make-out session that looked like it could escalate to the next level at any moment. Gross. What was I doing here?
Just then, the teacher, Mrs Ferrucelli walked around me and into the class, confirming this was indeed the co-operative education course I’d signed up for. I quickly took a seat in the second row, my backpack placed protectively on the empty seat beside me. She didn’t acknowledge any of the chaos that was happening in the room. Ferrucelli stared straight through her gold rimmed glasses, directly down the center of the class, like she couldn’t actually see any of us. She spoke in a monotone voice. “Good afternoon. Welcome to the first day of co-op. Today you will each meet with me to discuss placement options. Placement interviews will be set up by the end of next week.”
Interviews!? Somehow, I hadn’t realized that I’d have to do an interview for my placement. I thought they’d just give me a spot at a local elementary school, and I’d get credit for going there. I’d only ever had one job interview before. That one barely even counted because it’d been a joint interview with my best friend, Olivia Pagliacci, for an entry-level position at Alpson’s, a rotisserie chicken restaurant. We’d both been hired on the spot, naturally. They hired basically anyone who applied.
A student appeared at the door with bed-head and a wrinkly yellow uniformed golf shirt, and I felt a surprising wave of relief. I knew him. His name was Drew Donar. I didn’t know him all that well, he was just good friends with my good friend Seth Grady. We had hung out together a few times, usually in group situations. In any other class, I probably would have pretended not to notice him, but today, I needed a friend. I waved him over.
“I didn’t know you were interested in co-op,” I told him as I lifted my bag from his chair.
“I’m not.” He shrugged as he took a seat. “The guidance counselor told me I have to take this class because I’m so behind in credits, there’s no way I’m going to graduate this year.”
Drew had accidentally dropped out of school at the beginning of grade 11 because he was too entranced by his World of Warcraft game. Now they were forcing him to take co-op? Disillusionment about this course started to set in. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Drew confirmed. I looked around the room wondering how many other students in this class were in Drew’s situation. “Why are you taking it?”
I had wanted to take co-op since I had heard about the program in 9th grade. It sounded perfect. It was an excuse to get out of school and away from all the Bridgewood kids, while gaining experience, skills and contacts in my field. I thought it seemed like a dream. I’d saved this class for my last semester in high school, so it could be the perfect early end to the four years of torture that made up my high school experience. I tried to sound casual about it. “To get out of class. But they won’t let me have two spares. I don’t even need this class to graduate. I have too many credits.”
It was true. I had taken an extra course in summer school between grades 10 and 11, and a night school course in grade 12 all in an attempt to be at school as little as possible in senior year. At first, when I was told I couldn’t have two spares because it would make me a part-time student, I had been outraged. It was all about money. Funding for part-time students was less than half of that of full-time students, so the school wouldn’t allow it. Recently, however, I had started hanging out with Seth’s group of friends more and more often, and suddenly I wasn’t all that upset that I was stuck in high school for another semester. High school was actually getting kind of interesting. It was about time.
“Wow, can you give me some credits?” Drew joked.
“I already did! In your Core Resource class.”
When Drew had finally returned to school, he was so far behind that he was put in a special needs class. It was another misguided attempt by the school to push kids through the system by any means necessary. It was better for the school’s reputation to have kids graduating by any means necessary rather than flunking out. Basically, any student that wasn’t your typical teenager was put in a class called Core Resource. There were kids with everything from learning disorders, to Autism, to Down’s Syndrome and even a blind student all together in that class with Drew. They all worked from the same booklets with the same teacher. It was terrible. It made no sense. Each student had unique needs and requirements. Drew didn’t even belong there! He was your typical, lazy, teenager. He just needed to attend regular classes more frequently. Sometimes, on my spare, I would go to his class and help him with some of the work. It was so easy.
“What kind of placement do you want to do?” I asked him curiously.
“I don’t know.” He replied honestly. “Maybe something with games like BE Games? Or music? Like at VMH?”
“That’s really cool.” I wished I had interests or talents or something.
“What about you?”
“Teaching.” I wrinkled my nose. Somehow going into teaching had become such a copout. It seemed to be synonymous with having no real ambition or goals. Every other girl in my grade wanted to be a teacher. But where were they? Why weren’t they in this class? Didn’t they want this experience?
“That’s a good idea,” Drew nodded thoughtfully. “You really did help me a lot in my Core class. And in grade 11 math, for that week I was there. You’d make a great teacher.”
I swallowed hard, taking it all in. The rowdy students, the inadequate systems, Ferrucelli’s cold, dead stare. I wasn’t so sure I even wanted to be a teacher anymore.