Tag Archives: secret teacher thoughts

It Begins (Again)

Teaching is one of those jobs that carries all kinds of asterisks and disclaimers. And it’s not a job for the faint of heart.

But one thing it has going for it — that not many jobs do — is an enforced sense of renewal and rebirth.

You spend a year going through the mud with your students. You get embroiled in their lives. Sure, you find out all about their grades and their academic progress. Definitely you discover all their little behavior … quirks. (Let’s call them quirks.) Sometimes you find out about their parents and their lives outside of school. (Often, this answers many questions you may have had previously.) And depending on what kind of teacher you are, you find out a lot more. You learn how they talk to each other. (Frightening.) You learn about their relationships with each other. (Ew.) You learn what they think of other teachers in the building. (Yikes.)

But it doesn’t stop there. By the end of the year, you know what makes them laugh. What makes them upset. You know what they’re going to do before they even do it. (Tyler, in the fourth row, is gonna ask me what a metaphor is when I talk about this story, even though I’ve explained it a dozen times this year, and when he does, Tevin, next to him, is gonna sigh and roll his eyes — and probably swat him — because he’s tired of hearing my spiel.)

You come away from the school year, in other words, covered with their gunk. And not just the students’ gunk. Gunk from other teachers and their frustrations that you have to listen to in the workroom, the mailroom, before the faculty meeting. Gunk from the seemingly endless meetings, by the way, that could have been e-mails. Gunk from the unpleasant encounters you had with parents, from the stress about the extra time you had to spend in the building at the expense of your family time, from the piles and piles and piles and piles of paperwork.

And in most other jobs, you’re stuck with all that gunk — because as soon as one job is done, it’s right on to the next. No downtime, outside from the occasional vacation (which only puts the gunk aside for a little while, to be picked up and re-applied upon your return.)

But teachers get that summer break. And what I’ve learned in my eight years (help!) of teaching is that it’s a rare educator that comes back in the fall still gunked-up. The summer lets you really clear your head, lets you drop all the baggage of the previous year — the gunk, bit by bit, just falls away.

We get to start the new year, every year, clean and fresh. Maybe not smiling and bright-eyed (we’re out of the habit of waking up early after all, but this is why coffee exists), but at least optimistic that the year ahead could be a good one.

Maybe we make some changes to the way we run things; maybe we don’t. Maybe we’ll have a magic combination of minds in our classes that makes every day teaching a joy; maybe we won’t.

But whatever the new year brings, we get a chance to start it un-gunked. Clear-headed. Renewed, reborn. Maybe even a little bit hopeful.

My first students will breach the doors in a little under an hour.

To those about to teach, I salute you.

See you on the other side.


Thanksgiving for Teachers: A Sample Itinerary

Thing about teachers is, it’s hard to describe being one. I mean, in a vague way I guess people think they understand it — well, you babysit some students who are sort of vaguely jerkish, you write some lesson plans and quizzes, you grade some quizzes, assign some homework, take an hour-and-a-half lunch every day, and then you get three months off during the summer. Oh and THOSE WHO CAN’T DO, TEACH HAW HAW HAW. And that’s true, in the sense that it’s true that bees are face-stinging forces of evil. Sure, they are, but that leaves out the much more important truth that they power the agricultural engines of the entire freaking world.

Teachers are people. Flawed people. People whose work gets the better of them sometimes, just like anybody else, and people who look forward to their well-earned vacations with a gusto that borders on the psychopathic. Seriously — take a walk through any school building in the days leading up to a holiday. See if you can’t smell the desperation coming off them in waves, if you can’t see the frenetic ecstasy rimming their eyes.

But as much as we look forward to our time off, we always screw it up. (Or at least I do.) Here’s how this Thanksgiving went in my life as a teacher:

  1. Organize a series of quizzes and essays to grade over the break. You have a week off; that’s plenty of time to fit in an hour or so somewhere to do a bit of catch-up work.
  2. Stuff said papers in your “teacher bag” and carry it home.
  3. On the short drive home, allow yourself to drift away completely from even the abstract idea that you are a teacher.
  4. Bag o’ papers goes in the closet. Enjoy a nice adult beverage with dinner because it’s vacation, dammit.
  5. Spend next few days doing house things and totally not doing teacher things. Bag o’ papers collects lint in the closet.
  6. Organize for your trip out of town. Do not, even for a second, consider bringing Bag o’ papers with you.
  7. Turkey and stuffing and travel whirlwind for a few days.
  8. Arrive home and decompress from seven hours in the car with kids who do not want to be in the car for seven hours. Bag o’ papers is still in the closet, lurking like bad leftover green bean casserole. Nobody is interested in either.
  9. Plan to hang Christmas decorations. Find that on your earlier trip to Home Depot, you got the wrong size staples for your staple gun. Go to Home Depot again. Get wrong size staples again. Give up and watch college football. (LOL what bag o’ papers?)
  10. Last day of the break. Plan to hang Christmas decorations. Watch Inside Out with the kids instead. Remember that you’re a teacher and you have to go back to teaching tomorrow. Write a blog post about the things you did instead of grading papers over the break. Think about taking some time to grade papers today (there’s still time) and remember that the Falcons play at 1 PM. That means: morning for decorating, football in the afternoon, and by evening it’s time for the usual Sunday evening routine of dinner, bedtime, and sobbing over the lost weekend while sacrificing a goat in hopes of buying more time before you go back to work.
  11. Wonder how in the hell nine days passed so fast. Drink wine until you no longer care.
  12. Monday morning. Retrieve ungraded bag o’ papers from closet. Go to work in a panic. Resume regular teacherly duties.

I’m assuming it’s pretty much the same for all teachers.

Matriculate This

Here we are, the last day of school.

Not for all of you, I understand.  Many of you no doubt left school behind many years ago and never looked back.  Me, I got sucked back in and am now helping (?) today’s students to leave school in their rear view mirrors.  High school at least.

It’s a weird feeling.  I’ve been a teacher for three years before this year, but this is my first time teaching students who are actually graduating and actually leaving conventional schooling behind.  But don’t worry, I’m not going to wax rhapsodic or philosophic or catatonic about the joys and mysteries of teaching.

Rather, inspired by a colleague of mine, I’m going to share a letter I’m writing to a student.  Not a specific student.  But rather, I’m writing to that student.  That student that every teacher knows, that student who, in fact, everybody in the building knows, and whom we are not allowed to tell what we actually think of him (or her).

Again, I don’t feel this way for 99% of my students. This one is special.

Buckle up.

Psst.  Hey.  You.  Yeah, you.  I need to tell you something.

You’re graduating today, and that’s fantastic.  Really, I’m happy for you, and that’s not facetiery.  Yes, I just made that word up.  If you can’t figure out what it means, maybe you need to take my class again.  Anyway, hand to my heart, I’m happy for you.  But not for the reason you think.

No, I’m happy because it means I’m done with you.  I know, I know.  You’re done with me, too, and you’re done with all of your teachers and blah, blah, blah.  But I just want you to understand the depths of my feelings on the matter.  See, you think you know about hating somebody.  You’re, what, eighteen years old?  And you think you hate this teacher or that ex-friend or whoever for something they “did” to you.  But you don’t know what that word means.  I’m over thirty.  I’ve lived through enough situations to know the many subtle levels, the onion-peels of unpleasantry that can stink up a relationship between two people.  I know about dislike, about frustration, about disappointment, about mistrust, I know about shock and betrayal, I know about that thing you get with people where you can’t quite put your finger on it but man, does that person grate your nerves, and what I feel for you is none of those things.  Or, maybe to be more fair, it’s all of those things, and the English language just sadly does not have the proper Word for all of that yet.

What I have for you is an adult hatred, and I’m a little embarrassed to say that, because it feels like a failing on my part.  I shouldn’t feel this way about a young person.  I shouldn’t let the actions of somebody with enough experience to fill a teacup get the better of my emotions, but you’ve done it, and for that I suppose you deserve some sort of commendation.

You’ve lied.  I know it and you know it.  You’ve lied to me, to your parents, to your other teachers, probably to the administrators too, about matters great and small, significant and shallow, for ends as lofty as getting extra time on an assignment and as pitiful as running to the restroom.

You’ve cheated.  I know it and you know it.  You’re not as smart as the grade you’ve earned, and I know that you have no idea what half of the words on that last Macbeth quiz even meant, but somehow you aced it and I just can’t prove otherwise.

You’ve manipulated.  I know it and you know it.  All the people you lied to, you lied to manipulate.  Whether to gain some bizarre psychological advantage or whether to just make yourself feel fancy, you managed to convince me to do something I didn’t want to do, whether it was letting you out of class or turning in an assignment late. 

You’ve disappointed me.  You had (have) so much potential, but it’s wasted in you right now, it really is.  You’ve had so many opportunities to do the right thing and chosen the other way, had so many chances to redeem yourself with me and let me down.  I just can’t take it anymore.

You’ve betrayed me.  Thanks to your lies, there was a time when I had your back and you didn’t know it.  A time when I put myself out there for you and stuck up for you, and you made me feel like a fool for it.

All of that’s bad enough, but you know what the worst part is?  The fact that you think it’s cool.  Even today, you came up to me and talked to me like we were old pals, you had the nerve to ask me a favor.  Pardon me for laughing in your face.  I just couldn’t help myself.

But all of that Sharknado between you and me?  It’s okay.  I’m angry with you, I’m furious with myself for letting you get the better of me, but it’s okay, because it’s passing.  Like a kidney stone, I’m pissing you out to flush you.  And when you cross that stage, we are done.

All of it means nothing.  The lies you told, the disappointments, the betrayals of trust, it’s all like so many mosquitoes trapped in amber.  Because you’re going into the real world now.  And when you try that Sharknado in the real world, it’s going to rebound on you harder than you can ever imagine.  You’re going to say the wrong thing to the wrong guy and get your asgard punched through a wall.  You’ll try to manipulate your boss at work and you’ll get fired in a heartbeat.  You’ll cheat your boss or you’ll cheat your wife or your friend and you’ll lose your job or your relationship or your last friend.  The world is not high school, and it’s going to be a rude awakening for you.

If I could torpedo one kid, if I could wave a wand and stop you from graduating, if I could blow up your life and your plans, I would do it.  I’d stand with my finger over the button, watching you squirm, beg, and plead, and I’d push it with relish and gusto.  But I can’t and I won’t.  Not for the reasons you think; not because I’m afraid of losing my job, not because I don’t have the authority.  It’s because I have integrity.  I know that’s another word you don’t understand because you don’t have it and can’t even conceive of it.  But it means I have a sense of personal responsibility, I have a sense of right and wrong, I have care and concern for the way my actions affect the world around me.  By whatever crooked means, by whatever disingenuous contrivance, you have earned your graduation and I wouldn’t stand in its way.  I can watch you go, safe in the knowledge that even though you won this round, your comeuppance is not far off.  Don’t know that word either?  Yeah, I thought not.

But there’s one last thing I want you to know.  As you look around yourself on this day, you’ll notice a lot of your classmates smiling, laughing, crying.  You might smile and laugh too, but not for the same reasons.  See, this has all been one big joke for you, and now it’s over, and the crowd is going home and going on with their lives, and you’ll have nobody left to tell your jokes to.  But if you look my way, you might just see me smile back for you one last time.  And that smile will be genuine.  Because this is the last time I have to see you.  And that fills me with a buoyant, radiant joy.

Have a nice life.

I feel better. Happier programming will return tomorrow. And in all seriousness, congrats to the class of 2014. I’ll miss most of you.

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