oh captain my captain

"There are three kinds of teachers: Those who teach because they actively want to, those who teach because they like long summer vacations, and those who teach because they don't quite fit into the adult world."*

I wish it were that simple, and I wish I didn't identify with all three types.

There is a funny thing about teaching: Everybody seems to have an opinion on it, especially the everybodys who have never set foot in a classroom. I've seen no other profession more highly esteemed, and more ruthlessly mocked, than teaching. Especially public school teaching.

Consider every teacher in every movie or TV show you've ever seen. Movie/TV teachers fall into two categories: Messiah or Scum. John Keating (Dead Poets Society) or Ben Stein as the Economics teacher. (Bueller? Bueller?)

Freedom Writers or Clueless

Sure, the Messiah teachers start out rough. Someone plays a prank on them, or in the case of Mona Lisa Smile, already know all the answers. But fear not, by the end of the movie, the teacher has each and every student eating out of his or her hand. All in 90 minutes. If Julia Roberts can do it, what is wrong with you, Mr. Hall? (Hint: As if!)

And like Olympic Gymnastics, movie teachers make it look so easy.

Here's the truth: I actively want to be a teacher. I actively pursued being a teacher since I was 18, with a ferocity unusual for a regular person, let alone a person with "attention difficulties." I never changed my major, I never doubted. I actively want to be a teacher, except on the days I don't. Except on the days where I seriously contemplate getting "accidentally" pregnant so I have a socially acceptable reason to quit. I actively try to develop meaningful lessons, except on the day, when faced with a 62% failure rate, and three suspended students, I simply open the textbook and force my students to read. Silently. For an hour. I feel like I make a difference to my students, until they spend 30 minutes debating whether it's a zit or a hickey on my neck. **

I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I love summer vacation.

I'd be lying if I told you I didn't find solace in my profession. Yes, solace from dealing with other adults, who are much more complex than teens. (Mostly because adults still act like teens, but pretend they don't.) There is a solace in shutting the door to your classroom, and knowing that for the next 87 minutes, you are the (hopefully benevolent) God of your own tiny world.

There is also a sense of terror when you realize that it is you, the 23 year old adult against 37 teens.

But none of that fits into 90 minutes, or 3 categories. Or in a three line quote. I can't hope for students who stand dramatically on their desks, calling out Oh Captain! My Captain! in an act of cinematic loyalty. All I can hope for is that they learn something. And don't accuse me of selling drugs. ***

*Quote and not-necessarily related article found HERE

** Zit.

**Actually, I do think there is one movie that accurately depicts what is like to be a teacher, and you're going to scoff when I tell you. It's Mean Girls. The scene where Tina Fey spills coffee all over herself, insults a minority student accidentally, but still manages to encourage girls to do math? Substitute coffee for diet coke, and girls with boys and math with poetry, and I've almost successfully fulfilled my fantasy of BEING Tina Fey.


Jason said...

"There is a funny thing about teaching: Everybody seems to have an opinion on it, especially the everybodys who have never set foot in a classroom. I've seen no other profession more highly esteemed, and more ruthlessly mocked, than teaching. Especially public school teaching."

Law enforcement. I think I know exactly how you feel. Everybody knows exactly how to do my job, especially people who have never done anything remotely similar to my job. Just as highly esteemed as your job (sometimes), and just as ruthlessly mocked.

It's all good, though.

Ru said...

I feel ya, dude. But I will say that I think lawyers have it worse. Heroic defenders of civil liberties! (Atticus Finch, Edward Norton in The People Versus Larry Flynt, Denzel in Philadephia) Hilarious incompetents! (Barry Zuckercorn, Jackie Chiles, Lionel Hutz) Douchebags! (Every single other pop culture lawyer.) So basically, if I can't be a hero or a hilarious incompetent, where does that leave me?

PS - Fun story. A friend of mine told me that one week in her singles ward, the bishop started a comment with, "Now, I don't want to offend any of you out there whose fathers might be lawyers, but ..." and proceeded to blame our profession for America's ills. She said she would have been bugged, but since he effectively insulted youth, women and her career in one sentence, she decided to just be impressed.

PSS - So jealous that you get to be Tina Fey in any area of life. Sigh.

JRO said...

There are many days when teaching seems like more trouble than it's worth. And then there are days where I couldn't imagine having a better job.

What I found odd was your comment that getting pregnant would give you a socially acceptable reason to quit. Would it be socially unacceptable to keep your job after becoming pregnant? Is that a Utah thing?

Stephanie said...


In Utah Mormon culture, the ultimate "get out of _________ free" card is the pregnancy/baby card. Don't want to finish school? Forget a few days worth of birth control! Hate your job! Get pregnant. Obviously, I'm not speaking for everyone, I'm identifying a stereotype, but when I could not find a job immediately after graduating, I had several people suggest "just getting pregnant" instead.

As for staying at work? In and outside of Utah, someone is going to judge you if you go back to work after having kids. And someone is going to judge you for not going back. It's the problem we feminists haven't quite solved yet.

I'm personally of the "do what works for you," opinion on the matter.

Stephanie said...

Also, I'm a tiny bit paranoid that you perceived the pregnancy joke as a serious option for me. It was simply an expression of how stressful teaching can be- as in, I'd rather push out a human than do CRT review. That and what I said before about Utah being very accepting of the positive pee stick= two weeks notice....and, well, there you have it.

JRO said...

Stephanie, I did believe the pregnancy comment to be a joke, but in order for it to work, it has to be based on some reality.

By the way, I did grow up Mormon, but not in Utah. I had my first baby just a couple of months after finishing my student teaching, and although I had thought I would work full-time, after the baby came, I decided to stay home. I never felt any pressure or expectations to do so. And when I decided to get a full-time job later when I was a mom of two preschool age kids, I didn't feel any judgment of that choice. It's unfortunate that women can't make their own decisions about what is right for them.

yours truly said...

Hello! So nice to meet you this weekend. I'm so glad you said hello... and YOU are adorable!

Brooke said...

I love Mean Girls.