Hello. My name is the Wombat. And I’m a teacher.
Whew. That felt good. Admission in the first step.
I’ve been teaching for… (let’s see, take off a shoe to keep counting)… thirteen years now.
Why did I start teaching? Boy, that’s a loaded question. I mean, who can ever really remember that last thought of sobriety before your world changed?
But that’s why organizations like Teacher’s Anonymous exist. If any group needs anonymity more than alkies, it’s us, right? Shoot, you see a guy with multiple DUI’s in a bar, you roll your eyes and think, “poor guy can’t beat the sauce, let’s call him a cab.” You see a teacher in that same bar, you wag your finger at him and scold, “Shouldn’t you be setting a better example?”
Hell, even a guy with a sarcastic blog needs to call himself the Writing Wombat.
But I’ve been spending more time around new teachers and future teachers, and it’s got me trying to think back, to peel back the fifteen rings off of the tree. Or the onion, as the case may be.
- Time off.
Next Monday, I won’t have to get my ass out of bed unless I want to. Same with the day after and pretty much every day for the next two weeks. And then I’ll repeat that in March. And did I mention June and July?
Any teacher who says our vacation doesn’t factor into their decision to teach is a liar. After sixteen or more years of getting two weeks off every Christmas and a couple of months free throughout the year, everyone faces that “moment of clarity” when they get a real job.
“What do you mean I have to work Christmas Eve? AND the day after? Oh hell, no. Is there something I can do to get those three months off again? Teach, you say? Yeah, hook me up with some of that.”
Then again, we’re not allowed to take time off when we want to, like normal human beings. So let’s toast to round two.
My class, my rules. Yeah, I can get used to that really quick.
I still have to teach. I still need to make sure school rules and general decorum are enforced.
But it’s not the cubicle world I had known before taking the plunge. No boss walking by every few minutes because he has nothing better to do than micro-manage. In my mid-twenties, I had a few jobs that fit the Office Space mold perfectly. Have I worked for some Lumberghs in education, too? Of course. There might be more of those smug, un-self-aware, horrible idea-spouting bastards per capita in education than any other professions. “Hey, I taught one year of PE before becoming an administrator, but I think you should teach World War II before World War I.”
But at a high school, I don’t have to see these yahoos as much. A typical high school has two-thousand students, one hundred teachers, and maybe fifty other staff. Overseeing that is a principal, and maybe two or three assistant or vice principals. Doing the math (damn, I have to take my shoes off again), each administrator has about six hundred people that they are in charge of, five hundred of which have the tendency to pull fire alarms and sneak spliffs in the bathroom from time to time.
So, as long as I am professional, teach my students, and have a track record of success, I don’t have to constantly deal with someone telling me they don’t like the way I wipe my ass.
You’ve never had a boss comment on your defecation technique? Just me? Hmm.
- Sage on the stage.
I know we’re not supposed to teach this way anymore, and I usually don’t stand in front of the class and blah, blah, blah for a full 58 minutes. But it cannot be denied that the teacher is the foremost expert on most of the content and skills that are on display in any given classroom. Power is an aphrodisiac, and knowledge is power. String enough pithy clichés together, and you get close to understanding what it’s like to stand in front of the room of students. You’re the medieval noble and clergy all rolled into one. That’s two of the three Estates! But unlike ancien regime France, they ain’t no Robespierre and this ol’ Marie Antoinette ain’t eatin’ no nuthafuckin’ cake.
Did I mention I teach history, not English?
Come to think of it, comparing myself to a petty nobleman or medieval Pope is selling what I do short. What I do is nothing less than the creation and maintenance of an entire worldly ecosystem. Yeah, baby! Crush that up and feel it coursing through your veins. If I want to teach the Cuban Missile Crisis as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure wherein three-quarters of my subjects (ahem, “students”) start World War III? Done. A 20-minute abridgement of The Matrix to convey Plato’s Cave? No problem. A March Madness bracket to determine the most important person in European history? I do it every year. And the minions are always tricked into a debate over economic systems when Karl Marx “happens to” run into Adam Smith in the Elite Eight every year, never knowing that their benevolent dictator had that match-up all along.
Oh, and Class of ’14, who had the audacity to put Otto von Bismarck past Joseph Stalin into the finals? I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, and you will know I am THE LORD…
Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the scope and sequence of content. Planning the short-term and long-term goals so that they coincide and build together. Looking back over what worked before and what needs to be tweaked. Finding the happy medium between content and delivery.
There are some that don’t seem to enjoy this process. “Yeah, I just have them do a graphic organizer out of the book. I don’t really have anything to add to that.” Really? Then why the hell did you become a teacher? For the grading? Are you one of those alcoholics that only drinks for the hangover?
- Entertainment. I’ve got 150 potential sources of hilarity every day. And if I bring some grading home with me, maybe mix in an adult beverage, and I can’t help but guffaw. There will be a forthcoming blog entry with some of the best answers I’ve ever gotten. That post will be why I have to remain anonymous.
Think back to high school. Remember how all-consuming it was? Remember how you had all of the answers to any question life could throw at you? Remember thinking you were pulling one over on your teacher? But when you look back now you realize that he or she was barely holding back incredulous laughter? Yeah, take all of that, but subtract out the drama of teenage angst. And the acne. And the cool kids reminding you of the time you put your pants on backwards in third grade.
That’s teaching. Every year, you get the same kids. They change their names, but they look and act the same. Hell, I’ll have a goofball sit in the exact same seat that his doppelganger sat in two years ago. And he’s shocked, SHOCKED, that I’m always ready with a comeback.
“Hey Mr. Wombat, did you miss me yesterday?”
“You were absent?”
“Yeah, what did we do?”
“Oh, yesterday was the party. Too bad you missed it.”
So there you have it. Five reasons for the twelve step process in my thirteenth year of teaching. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go complain about having to work for four WHOLE more days before having ONLY two weeks off.