Teachers Are Weird

Back To School: Sam Kinison & The Epic Vietnam Tirade W/ Rodney Dangerfield

It should probably come as no surprise that most teachers are a little weird.

WT1

We work for relatively little money in a sporadic and unpredictable flux of appreciation and condemnation, trying to teach Enlightenment values and curriculum to youngsters who rarely seek or appreciate the knowledge we impart – and we LIKE it.

It’s unusual to find a particularly gifted teacher who isn’t noticeably dysfunctional in some essentially related way. Many of the best supplement their sincere drive to reach broken children and save academic souls with a desperate inner need to prove to their own doubts and insecurities that they are, in fact, tolerably swell at this intellectual (and yet holy) calling. Recurring bouts with self-loathing make bountiful fuel for late-night lesson planning and weekend grading marathons, and there’s nothing like constant second-guessing of oneself to promote patience and flexibility with all sorts of teen falderal.  

Similar irrationalities lead many of us into an unspoken conviction that not only are we humble martyrs taking a bludgeoning for the future, but that in so doing we’re making a daily decision to refute the sorts of lofty, respected, and embarrassingly profitable gigs to which lesser beings have succumbed. As if at any moment, we could in a moment of weakness or rebellion cast off our dry-erase markers and group discussion rubrics and take up that executive position at Microsoft, accept that endowed chair at Cambridge, or go on that book tour for the novel we’ve so selflessly never gotten around to writing.

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But no! Instead, today we will again set all of that aside to TEACH! 

What? Oh, er… And to monitor at the pep assembly! And collect those home language surveys the state requires of the SAME families every year as if they’ll get tricky one day and switch up their home language just to screw with us! 

We vent endlessly about the attitudes of our students, the blind bureaucracy of our superiors, and the suffocating pampering of parents determined to permanently cripple their young, then get giddy when struck by some odd new idea how we might better connect with that weird kid who we’re pretty sure keeps writing “c***sucker” on our mouse pad. 

We condemn pointless torture of children over minutiae when the state requires it, but take great pride in not letting them go pee for asking ‘can I’ instead of ‘may I’. In the first case we’re defending their right to grow up at their own pace and find their own way towards becoming their own unique person; in the second we’re holding the line because there are proper ways to say and do things and they just need to learn dammit. 

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Our intentions are noble both times. 

We’re endlessly committed to the emotional and intellectual growth of young people we didn’t raise, can’t realistically control, and with whom we cannot ethically or legally mingle beyond the confines of school functions. We derive immense satisfaction and fulfillment from relationships in which strong, clear boundaries are the defining, terrifying feature, and in which any realization we ‘need it’ or even ‘like it’ casts immediate aspersions on our motivations, maturity, and emotional health. 

We resent criticism from the community, reject the faux-accountability efforts of lawmakers, and bristle at student complaints regarding our pedagogy or expectations, then fill Twitter and our edu-blogs with condemnations of anyone doing things differently than us, lamenting their lack of accountability, and figuring if they had merit at all, their students would seem much happier and self-motivated.

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We clamor to be treated like professionals but deluge our administrators with dilemmas and complaints better suited for kindergarten playgrounds. We retweet clever graphics proving we all work 120-150 hours a week and if we were paid babysitter’s wages we’d be millionaires, then take eleven ‘mental health days’ a semester without leaving sub plans – all with far less guilt than when the new lesson we tried didn’t go as well first period as it did third period after we changed that one part and why-does-first-hour-always-get-shortchanged-I-suck-so-bad…

If we do our job well, most of our kids will cease to need us at all. If we’re especially successful in our efforts outside of class, our profession will rapidly cease looking like anything currently familiar. A real burst of progress could render us suddenly obsolete. But not really. Well, maybe. Oh god, could it, you think?

It’s bizarre if we think about it too closely, so we don’t. Teachers tend to drink a great deal, or binge-watch trashy TV shows. 

WT3Our coaches spend an additional 173 hours a week coaxing a hundred kids at a time to at least break a sweat in their quest to become the next Lebron James or the new Tom Brady.  

They drive team busses to towns with names like “Crack’s Flat” and upon returning watch hours of game film – GAME FILM – of bewildered 13-year olds running around butchering the holy name of football. They referee little league games throughout 108 degree weekends so their OWN kids can play - adding these proceeds to the eleven cents an hour windfall they enjoy for coaching. 

A select few educators decide that even the occasional moments of enlightenment or rapport shared with their students is simply too much fulfillment for one individual to deserve, and nail themselves to the absurdity-laden cross of a degree in public school administration. This allows them to deal almost exclusively with the worst-behaved, highest maintenance elements of the school population – after which they try to fit in STUDENT discipline issues as well. 

WT4They commit themselves to innumerable evening activities and a steady stream of only those parents unhappy enough to call THEM instead of whichever teacher is ruining their child for life THIS time. They sacrifice any remaining energy enduring interminable meetings with folks carrying longer titles but much shorter job descriptions, then hurry back to catch that one long-term sub and explain yet again why the lesson plans the pregnant teacher left really ARE a pretty good idea to follow – or at least try – please just this once – oh god don’t make me find yet another warm body... 

For this we rebrand them as ‘Instructional Leaders’ without the slightest intention of cruel irony. They let it slide because they know someone has to throw themselves into the barrage if their teachers and students are to have the slightest chance.

And they do. God bless them, the good ones do. 

So yeah, we get a little too anal about following the rules exactly during our Academic Team competitions, and the signs we make for our annual protests get a little snarky and rely too heavily on lame puns. We tend to get homely and fat and careless about proper hair care, and we chant and cheer for the most awkward things – often badly. 

WT5We’re cynical and bitter, but still ‘retweet’ and ‘share’ sappy motivational edu-memes much too freely. Waaayyyyy too many of us are still excited by the idea of test reviews via Jeopardy on the Smartboard or playing that Billy Joel song about not lighting Marilyn Monroe on fire. 

We’ll trade our biological young for free notepads, and we grab extras we don’t even need, telling ourselves they’re in some way ‘for the children’. 

We always want donuts. 

You’ll have no trouble finding far less needy, frustrating, bewildering adults in the professional realm, should you wish to look. But they won’t be lined up at your door, clamoring to teach.

Because teachers are weird. 

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Comments

My image of the good teachers (you know, the ones passionate about facilitating effective learning within the reality of the every growing and increasingly demanding mandates) is of those poor souls we all see proceeding through each day with fire wood or cardboard or scapegoat metal or ... strapped to their backs. You know, the ones well beyond ever being considered capable of the real contributions they surely entered this world having the potential to make.

Oh, for sure, there are the others either who chose teaching for all the wrong reasons and/or never received the education enabling them to engage in truly facilitating effective learning. They sadly embrace the mandates, justifying their believing 'there's nothing I can do about it!!! And, of course, they pile more fire wood, ... onto the backs of us committed to engaging in spite of those mandates.

We CANNOT allow the controllers to succeed!!!! We must connect through our PLCs and PLNs to continue to increase the support that's beginning to pop up from time to time. The good (fortunate) news: Even the mandaters know deep down we are dedicated to the right goals. The truth is that we need to rely on these genuine and critical connections - AND always be open to nurture the others who begin to seek to 'make a difference.'

It doesn't take long to figure out how truly screwed up our world is - in all facets. Everyone who truly understands the value of effective problem solving applying the knowledge and skills emerging from effective learning already is making a difference and through cooperation will continue to do more. If we believe changes must be made, we need to do more and welcome the newly converted believers into our efforts.

I'm not sure what got me onto this preaching to the choir. Your blog posts do that for me I guess. Thank you for them - and let's hope the travesty of mandates continues to break up as they gain more exposure for what they are...

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