When You’re a Small-Town Teacher, All Eyes Are on You

You’re basically a celebrity.

Have you ever felt like a rock star or a celebrity? I did the year I taught third grade in a central California farming community. I was new to town, and I had landed a job at a great school with a supportive administration, caring colleagues, friendly families, and engaged students. Actually, maybe they were a little too engaged. I swear they were watching my every move. I almost felt like I was being stalked.

A week into the school year, one of my students greeted me on a Monday morning with,

“I saw you Saturday, Ms. Magee.”

“Really?” I answered, without thinking much of it.

“Yes,” the student continued. “You were wearing bright pink sweats!”

Immediately my mind took an inventory of what I did on Saturday: I mowed my lawn, threw the ball for my dog at the park, dropped off books at the library … and yes, I remember wearing my super bright pink sweats the entire time. Ugh. The bell rang, and I started the school day, soon forgetting the conversation. But this was just the beginning.

Two days later, another student declared that he had spotted me walking my dog.


“Your dog sure is big, Ms. Magee,” he said.

“Um, yes, she is,” I answered warily. “Where did you see me?”

“On 5th Street. You walked past my grandma’s house. Her yappy dogs went crazy when they saw your big dog!”

My mind wandered—there were about four houses on 5th Street that had yappy dogs that went wild at the sight of my dog. Which one was my student’s grandmother’s house? As the weeks went by, my students enthusiastically reported on where they had seen me.

At the grocery store: “You buy a lot of ice cream!”

At the movies: “You went into the theater that had the movie that mom said was not appropriate for me.”

Then, at a restaurant: “My dad likes beer too.”

It got to the point where my students were reporting on my whereabouts almost every time I left the house.

Yet they never approached me to say hello. The next day at school, they just made a point to tell me where they saw me. Instead of Where’s Waldo?, my students were playing Where’s Ms. Magee?

I have to admit I was both a tiny bit flattered and a whole lot unnerved by the reports of my whereabouts. It was nice that the kids liked me enough to be excited to see me outside of school. But I also felt like there were eyes on me all the time. Soon, I was watching my speed while driving and sending my husband to the store. It was kind of a relief when we’d leave town for the weekend, so I didn’t have to constantly look over my shoulder.

After every reported sighting, I asked my students why they didn’t approach me and say hello. Every time, they said that their parents wouldn’t allow them to because they were “giving me privacy.”

When parent-teacher conferences rolled around, I had a good laugh with several of the parents, and I encouraged them to stick their hand out their window and wave to me the next time they saw me walking the dog. Or to come up and say a quick hello if they saw me at a restaurant or the grocery store.

I have to say that I really enjoyed teaching in such a small and involved community, but it look a little bit of getting used to being the new person in town. And I have to admit—I never wore those bright pink sweats outside of my house for the rest of the year. You never know when the paparazzi will snap a photo!