Notes of a Bad Teacher
I know there’s a such thing as a stupid question. In fact, I laugh aloud when I hear one. I take too long to grade essays. I feel awful about it, but I refuse to apologize for it. I share anecdotes about my personal life to illustrate a point (and liven up an otherwise boring lesson), and I shamelessly plug my favorite television shows and movies by using them as points of reference. I use sexy sentences to teach grammar and punctuation rules, and I occasionally commit blasphemy, mocking many of the things my former Sunday school teacher took too long to discuss before the fruit, donuts, and juice were distributed. Simply put, I’m a bad teacher.
Now, I’m not that teacher patrolling the gym for jailbait under the guise of signing up Coach Whoever for the next assembly (that’s just nasty), but I am that teacher refusing the let the less than agile girl dance in that assembly. (“No, Sweetie, here’s your poem for memorizing.” Who has time for tact? The show must go on, and if it goes on with my name as the organizer, your flat-footed behind will be stationed appropriately behind a microphone at intermission.) I believe that everyone deserves a shot, but not everyone deserves a trophy. (And in thirty-seventh place…) I know that this race called life is for the swiftest, and our kids are not all that swift these days. And as an admittedly bad teacher, I recognize my part in their inevitable futures straight to the bottom.
Self-professed “good” teachers, however, never see their complicities in the profound failure of our youth. It’s always the faults of the kids themselves, parents, teachers from previous grade levels, administrators, politicians, polar bears (maybe I got a little carried away), but the reality is that we all contribute to the profound ineptitude sure to send us spiraling into a chasm of bad medicine, bad wiring, and bad food sure to follow with a generation of poor readers, poor writers, and poor thinkers entering adulthood. I have often remarked that if I saw certain of my former students as doctors or nurses before I were to have a life-saving surgery, I would rip that IV from my arm, flip myself off that table (bare ass and all—again, who has time for tact?), and army-trench crawl out of that room to the safety of dying in a hospital hallway. See, a good teacher would say, “I’m so proud of your success, Johnny.” Not me. I would question what cereal box gave medical degrees and certificates as the “free” prize. I may be a bad teacher, but I’m not stupid.
Being a bad teacher gives me a certain degree of leeway (I can say things that others wish they could but are too “good” to articulate), but this title also forces me to be more observant (especially because I’m probably breaking some well-intended but needless and unplanned rule, and I need to be on the lookout for sneaky collegues). I cannot just see-but-not-see or know-but-not-know. My pride and ego just won’t allow it. I tend to say whatever is on my mind, knowing that those listening don’t really care about, but really need to hear, the truth. If I could, I would probably quit teaching because I still believe that all kids can learn, schools should be havens of safety and centers of knowledge, and teachers have the potential to effect positive change in the lives of their students. I still go to work every day knowing that I am not an expert, and I really think that all my planning, reflection, reteaching, and beating (just kidding) will inevitably work out for kids in the end. That idealism that I started teaching with still wakes me up at 3:30 in the morning, sending me with bed-head and morning-breath to the laptop to amend the lesson plan I already spent 6 hours Sunday night writing and retooling for the week. Good teachers always look so well rested. (Yes, there is a touch of jealousy in my voice.) I need the money and the ever-decreasing benefits, though. (I married for love—damn that pesky heart of mine! If I married for money, I might be better versed on the latest installments of Maury. “You are the father!”)
The realist in me knows better than to challenge the top down demands from those who haven’t spent any time in a classroom other than in one of the 30 neatly arranged desks on the other side of the big desk, but the bad teacher in me won’t buy into something that just doesn’t feel or look right. To reconcile the two, I try to work my voodoo within the confines of some semblance of acceptance, but I usually end up being found out because some kid had way too much fun stirring the caldron of knowledge and blabbed to some “good” teacher.
Now, some higher up or another is forcing me to do some PD about the “ease” of motivating students while still adhering to the tenets of the newest program sweeping the nation to a bunch of people counting the days to retirement (“1,456 more to go!”). (I should really have kids sign non-disclosure clauses on the first day of school.) Then I’m stuck in some horrible cycle of my defeatist mentality. I’m bad and I know it, so I act bad; acting bad is appealing, so others want to act bad too (or at least want me to share the merits of acting bad); I know what I’m doing is not good enough (hence all the reworking and restructuring in the wee hours of the morning), yet I’m pretending to be an expert for my peers; my peers take a small portion of what I say and put it into half-assed action in their classrooms; it fails, and I look like a jerk; my jerkiness makes them angry; then I become something of a running joke. Then even crueler than snickering haughtily when I enter the teachers’ lounge to get the lunch I haven’t had time to eat all week, I become a leper. I’m the one with the row of empty seats next to her when the all-staff meetings take place. (Okay, that was overkill; it’s not really that bad. I’ve been teaching writing to gain sympathy in my classes. I guess I got a little carried away again.)
The truth is, though, that although people may snicker or decry any advantages to being a bad teacher, I do have cohorts, fellow bad teachers, in every discipline in my school. When we do get a chance to emerge from the dust and rubble of a good days worth of bad teaching, we sit around over wilted salads and flat sodas discussing how to reinvent the lessons we hurled toward students since the last time we met. The flurry of bad ideas is so inspiring that we chuck the remaining remnants of that tuna fish we ate but shouldn’t have into the waste bin and head back to our rooms for some notes for next week’s lessons. The bell rings…(damn, I forgot to use the bathroom. Oh well, maybe I’ll do it when I get burned out and become good teacher.)