In the thirteen years that I worked as a classroom teacher, I spent twelve of those years teaching teenagers.
A more weird and wonderful career could not be imagined.
While going back over some old journals, it dawned on me that pretty much everything you need to know about what it feels like to be a teacher can be found in my 2008-2009 journal.
Everything You Need to Know about What It Feels Like to Be a Teacher:
April 14, 2008: Today I tripped over the stool at the front of my classroom and nearly fell on my face. Fortunately, I managed to realign my balance by doing a kind of awkward, stumbling dance step across the front of the room. I'm telling you, my kids hardly ever have trouble staying awake.
November 14, 2008: While working on finalizing play costumes in my classroom just now, I looked up to see someone from the fire marshal's office come in to do routine check. He was kind of cute. Of course, I was standing in the center of my room holding a set of droopy men's pajamas up to myself and looking in the mirror, trying to guess if they would fit they boy playing Scrooge. I was all, "Oh! Um, hi!" I gave a little wave with one hand while trying to keep the pajamas held up with the other hand. Then I let loose with this really awkward laugh.
October 30, 2008: It smells like somebody pooped in here.
November 3, 2008: On Friday, someone gave me an Amish Friendship Bread starter kit, which I promptly forgot and left in my classroom all weekend. It now smells strongly of yeast in here.
I suppose it's better than poop.
December 5, 2008: I was so proud of myself at lunch for having successfully eaten an entire container of yogurt without dribbling any of it down my front (I have bad luck with yogurt) but then I went to the bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and saw a black smudge of whiteboard marker on my forehead and some darker spots on my shirt that must have been from breakfast. I was less excited about my success with the yogurt at that point, but only marginally.
A minor victory is still a victory.
February 24, 2009: Today I managed to cut myself with a whiteboard marker. It was sort of like a paper cut, only it came from the cap of a black Expo marker. The cut was surprisingly deep! By the time I'd realized what happened, there was already a bead of blood on my knuckle. I was so shocked that I stopped talking just to stare at my hand. My kids got all curious, because I never stop talking. They were like, "What's wrong?" To which I intelligently replied, "I cut myself on the marker!"
March 27, 2009: I just wrote "January 25" on the board. It is neither January nor the 25th. Today could be trouble.
April 15, 2009: Yesterday as I was leaving for work, I saw that somebody had drawn a naughty sketch of male anatomy in the dew on my rear window. Today I arrived at work and found four (4) trash cans placed at random intervals throughout my classroom for no apparent reason.
I'm so tired.
April 24, 2009: Today a bee flew into my mouth while I was eating lunch. I spat it back out and kept talking, much to the amazement of the 7th graders at the picnic table with me.
The legend continues.
August 19, 2009: I dreamt that I arrived late for the first day of school (aak, stress!) to find that my homeroom class had lined up straight out from the building, jutting off the sidewalk and straight through a hedge.
I instructed them that tomorrow they should line up on the sidewalk so as to avoid the bushes, and one of the boys said, "WHAT bushes?"
I looked, and there were no bushes there any more.
I turned back to the line of kids and saw that the first boy in line was wearing his school uniform pants on the bottom but a wife-beater on top. I asked him why, and he said his uniform shirt hadn't come yet.
ME: Well, you can't wear that.
HIM: Why not?
ME: It's inappropriate!
HIM: My mom said you'd be hormonal about this.
ME: She said what?!
Then I woke up.
August 20, 2009: First days are surprisingly enjoyable. The kids haven't settled into their grooves yet: all is quiet on the discipline front. Everyone has clean notebooks, sharpened pencils, and pristine text books. It doesn't get any better than that.
One boy did lose control of the pencil that he was spinning around his fingers, though. It came flipping across the aisle and bounced off my chest. Naturally, he was mortified. I felt so badly for him: he'd hit the teacher in the chest with a pencil on the FIRST DAY! Even though I could tell it was an accident, I sent him to sit in the back anyway, "to keep out of range," I said. This action was mostly taken for the benefit of the new students, who needed to see that I wouldn't be mean, but I wouldn't tolerate any shenanigans either.
August 21, 2009:
I have made a list of personal goals for this school year, as follows:
1. Keep my hands out of the urinal as much as possible.
2. Not wait until the last minute to get ocean water for class projects.
3. Refrain from after-school tutoring if possible.
4. Pack (and eat!) a lunch every single day of the school year.
5. Find time to use the rest room at least once every day.
September 2, 2009: I ate lunch with some 9th grade boys today. Our lunch discussion: If you had to pick between fighting three tigers with your hands tied behind your back and falling halfway down the Himalayas to wrestle a goose, which would you choose? I picked falling down the mountains to wrestle a goose, because I at least have a chance of killing the goose by landing on him.
September 8, 2009:
Snippets from parent e-mails this week:
"I would have appreciated you letting me know that this was a problem." (In response to an e-mail I'd sent her to alert her of a problem.)
"My son has Asperger's. Maybe you should try reading about it. It might help you." (In response to my query regarding how she and I could best work together to help her son adjust to a mainstream classroom.)
"Sorry that is am it it with her for volleyball." (That's the whole message.)
September 23, 2009: Today has actually been rather awful, as days go. I planned to sit down and write it all out, but then thought better of it. After all, don't we all have a list of grievances that we could rattle off on any given day?
Instead, these thoughts:
Some mornings I hate dragging myself out of bed to go to work, but I have a job.
Sometimes I do not agree with all of the decisions made by those over me, but I am glad that I do not have to make those decisions.
Rebellious teens make my life difficult, but thank God that He extends grace.
November 19, 2009:
Things I said at work today:
1. "Please stop throwing imaginary Chinese stars at my head."
2. "That's something we all think, but do not say."
3. "Put the lizard back in the bush were you found it!"
4. "I don't care if it is an epic battle rap. It still counts as passing notes, and I am confiscating it."
5. "When I told you that you could not use any contractions or any forms of the word you in your papers, did you think that I was not serious?"
6. "Poe is not pleased with you." (This after conferring with the cutout head of Edgar Allen Poe that has become my unofficial teacher's aid.)
7. "Even if you use the word fornicate, it's still not a topic that I want to hear you discussing."
December 8, 2009: Were we this self-absorbed when we were in high school? Surely not.
December 17, 2009: Those three little words that thrill my heart: END. OF. TERM.
* * * *
The truth is that despite the patent use of hyperbole in the title of this post, there's really no way to understand what it feels like to be a teacher unless you've done it yourself.
It's weird and wonderful and terrible and awesome.
If this post accomplishes nothing else, I hope that it gives you an increased appreciation for the teachers in your life and in your children's lives. Most of them work terribly hard for very little compensation, and all of them could recount story after story echoing the sentiments above.
Today, no matter what else you do, thank a teacher.