Mandy Tucker
5 min readDec 9, 2022

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The new student and the old one

Not sure if I can type this and more importantly communicate the day’s experience. It’s after 8PM and I feel like I’ve been trampled by a herd of Wildebeasts, like most nights. And, today was like most days — chaos, craziness, non-stop interaction/teaching/guiding/reprimanding/handholding/encouraging and so on with nearly 100 teenagers.

Today was typical, the positive self-talk, listening to uplifting music, a quiet prayer asking to help me be the best mom/wife/teacher/human that I can be, and some road rage here and there en route to school. Arriving at school I do my best to hurry but not run over any teenagers or hit their parents’ mini-vans in the high school parking lot. Today as I was unloading my crate of crap that I haul back and forth each night and morning, I realized I didn’t have my school keys, and that started the beginning of the day’s circus. A kind colleague, a key-loser herself, let me into the Photography class room, past the numerous students waiting to return borrowed cameras, and others waiting to borrow cameras. She also unlocked my camera storage closet so I could start the process of accepting cameras — of course, tenuously, since the day before when I opened the storage closet to cockroach droppings all over the camera checkout cards (a story too disgusting to go into). A fact that I have to avoid thinking much about. This is before I can run to the restroom after my 4 cups of coffee before the bell. Getting the kids in the process of unloading their film without wrecking it and then helping the new camera borrowers get the film in their cameras (yes — we still run a darkroom!). All the while a (college) student teacher was there to observe me doing this job with a sympathetic look. Thankfully, she and my aide back-tracked my exiting the night before in the usual butt-kicked state, and found I had left my keys as I dropped stuff off in the 2nd of the 3 rooms in which I teach. Whew.

Meanwhile the bell had rung and the kids poured in while I was prepping chemicals in the darkroom and the film room with some help from my other 2 aides. So thankful for student aides — -they should earn money for my classes. One in particular is usually quite cranky who does her best to be witty and sarcastic. She even took pity on me today and stepped up in helping put out fires where they arose. Once film and darkroom were prepped, I proceeded to manage the rotation of activities: some kids were loading their film on the reel (in a closet in complete darkness) and (chemically) processing their negatives, some still needed to see the new assignment, and then borrow cameras, while others were printing their pictures and lastly the intermediate level students had to be instructed on the construction of their pinhole cameras. The act of guiding/reminding/teaching/demonstrating etc. feels like a 4-wheeling merry-go-round.

All of that is a normal class in Photoland as I call it. What was peculiar today was a moment of clarity in all the chaos I was attempting to manage. While the students were getting settled just after the tardy bell and waiting for my direction, in walked a boy I didn’t recognize. I was in the corner, across the room opposite the door. We made eye contact as soon as he walked in, and he made a clear beeline for me. I noticed he had black greasy hair, disheveled clothes that were far too big for him. As he walked toward me, he must’ve seen the perplexity on my face as he mouthed “I am a new student.” Now, under the circumstances of being so far into the semester and having a big, crowded class, normally I may have shown more disgruntlement about a late-add student. But, with this guy, I sensed his desperation and panic. The panic of having to walk into a new class in front of all the students, the painful self-consciousness of a teenager, poorly dressed and knowing no one. I welcomed him as he showed me his schedule. He didn’t have my class on the schedule until the spring. So I spent a minute explaining how to read the schedule — -which is an absurd matrix which must be studied nightly to know what the heck is happening even for a 23-year veteran. I tried to slow him down and help him sort it out, and reassure him that our schedule is confusing. Once he seemed to get it — -I said, “welcome.” And, I meant it. Welcome to the craziness, and no worries — -we’re all a little or a lot crazy here, just jump in.

Meanwhile the pulsating Photo class was on it’s way wrecking film in so may ways opening film closet doors and camera backs, using wrong chemicals, to not using a light meter and a myriad of other mini-disasters only to be told to “live and learn” from the mistakes and try again — -more aware next time. The pinhole camera makers even made one negative, while the new camera borrowers loaded their film and were on their way taking portraits and point of view shots, figuring out shutter speeds and f/stops.

Once all was cleaned up and shut down in the Photo Lab, I headed over to the mac lab for my Intro to Photo Journalism class, which is it’s own unique carnival. The kids had borrowed digital cameras to take pictures focusing on common compositional techniques and then uploading to the Macs to learn a bit of minor photoshop editing. Now this class has quite a few 9th graders which has me biting my tongue. I see some looking at me completely perplexed, or maybe terrified? So, I have to slow down my normal sprint of teaching, as some are mere babies and I don’t want to traumatize them.

After wolfing down lunch I head off to another classroom across campus to teach my Advanced Placement Art History class, which is keeping with the theme of kids staring at me like I’m completely ludicrous. Today they graded their essays and reviewed their Ancient Near East test they took last week. Being like most AP students they were devastated at how poorly they did. Although we had 90 minutes to do this, we ran out of time. This then ends with students with questions and tests surrounding my desk after the bell rings, sorting and calming for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile photo students are tracking me down because they are convinced their cameras are broken — they’re not.

I was right, there really is no way to explain this so people outside of teachers can understand how it feels like a tsumani of experiences yet only one day. Today was normal, but for some reason, the picture in my mind of that moment of the boy on his first day at a new school in the wrong class and his look of desperation stuck with me. I think helping him was the best and most important thing I did all day.

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Mandy Tucker
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Mandy Tucker is an art/photo teacher (recently retired), grandmother, traveler, maker/designer, social justice warrior, curious and contemplative thinker/writer