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Guest Post by an American Teacher: A Crash Course in Being a Teacher

This guest post by an anonymous American Teacher does not reflect my opinions. I present it here for the purpose of encouraging discussion.

Everything I do is for the sake of expedience.  So when I go to work, I’m on sleep mode.  I have a passionless day.  For seven hours, I feel what it is like not to feel anything. I move on the fringe and stay out of the limelight.  I am very close to being off everyone’s radar, completely unimportant. I am not to be condemned for that.  Reality, after all, is on my side.

Plenty of people switch off at their jobs.  Just because I am not actively contributing does not mean that I am screwing things up.  I’m not doing any harm. So what if the future stock boys of America don’t know when the Civil War ended?

I have seen teachers who don’t survive.  They don’t know how to get through outrage after outrage and they give up.   I have seen young teachers suffering, drained of energy, older teachers struggling years into a nightmare, wrung out like a soiled dish cloth.  So many teachers are like cases of walking pneumonia.  I could cure them.

The burned out, the fed up, these are the people I would like to teach.  Don’t live that life, I would tell them.  Do not agonize and do not quit. Leaving a job like this doesn’t make sense.

I would show them the successful prototype of the disengaged teacher:  Me.  I am the ne plus ultra of the lax and uncommitted.  I’d raise the consciousness of the downtrodden and show them how to shake off their old ways.  My methods are 99.9% foolproof.

Teachers, there is such a thing as survival.  I have the answers. I will be your most important guide.  Hang on to my every word.

First, don’t embrace your job.

A high school is a place where people move closely with people about whom they know little. Some of the students won’t know your name for months.  And you will quickly be forgotten once summer arrives.  The only mark you will leave on them is akin to a snail leaving its slime. Their connection to you is threadlike. Keep it that way.

Your students are freeloaders.  They are punks, snitches, and will turn on you when convenient.  Some of them may even be spies for the administration.  Nothing they do can be taken seriously, as many of them are on Aderall and Ritalin, yet they govern you and not the other way around.  Far from being encouraged to teach, you will be encouraged to pass them with the highest grades possible, A’s and B’s.  Do it.

If you don’t follow this diktat, you will frequently hear complaints, from students, administrators, and parents. You are not trusted by them.  The claims of the student will always be prioritized over the claims of the teacher.

The administration just wants to use you as a tool to do their dirty work, enforce the dress code, have standards, and when you do so, they will throw you right under the bus.  Don’t ever try to discipline a student. You will be overturned. Self-preservation should should be your first instinct. Your first priority should be to safeguard your psyche from stress.  Your peace-of-mind should override every other consideration.

So don’t dive into your class. Operate at a remove.  Lots of ways to shave time off a class.  Look around your room and think of some. Linger in the hall as long as possible after the bell rings. Shut the door slowly.  Pass out papers slowly. Collect them slowly. Seconds add up.  Shorten the amount of time you interact with kids to a minimum. Some of them can’t even count to ten. Show lots of video clips and at least one movie a marking period. Don’t take teaching seriously. You can look to everyone else like you are teaching when, of course, you’re really not. Hunch forward over your desk with a batch of papers to make it look as though you are correcting when all you are doing is playing on your phone.  Look like the hardest working and be careful not to use the school wifi. Trawl the news. Read the newspapers on your school computer and pretend you are doing work.

Stay focused on some narrow goals, like never giving anyone less than a B-.  Teaching in a public school is less about having students master a subject and more about winning a popularity contest.  It’s not about math and grammar; it’s about you having a rapport with these hellcats.  A teacher is a fiction in today’s world. You need little academic background to teach. You need to play the game.  Working well in a public high school is a public relations job. You should become familiar with two important words: support and succeed.  Even though you don’t mean it, you always want to be sure to say that you are there to support your students and that you want to help them succeed.  Practice saying those phrases on your drive to work.

Choose your words with students carefully.  They can be used against you.   Hone your use of language so that you communicate as little as possible with kids.  Try not to allow them within spitting distance of you.

You will want to spit on parents, but make your encounters with them frictionless. They are another area on which to cultivate your hypocrisy.  Students either just don’t stand out or they stand out in the worst way possible.  You can know absolutely zilch about them, be completely unable to distinguish one student from another, and still manage to say the right things to parents.  Praise the worst idiot in your class.  Say good things, great things if you can manage it.  Be careful.  Great things might make you choke unless you have mastered the art of hypocrisy.

Everything your education professors told you is hollow. Teaching is inspirational only if students answer the call.  They never will. The best teachers are useless when students are not driven.  You are not going to change these kids’ minds. You are mistaken about your ability to contribute to society and change someone’s life.  You do not have any power. There will never be any evidence that the stuff you were taught in teaching school is working so cultivate the inner life.  If you actually think that teaching will lead to change, you are a fool.  You are a footnote in your students’ lives.

There are teachers who arrive at the building while it is still dark out.  Don’t do that. At the end of the day, rush to leave.  Gleefully skip out.  It will be an exhilarating moment, but if it’s not and you’re leaving exhausted, you have done your job badly.  Apathy can now end. You can start to feel again.  Enjoy your private life.  Fill it with your own interests, with love and happiness. Take a walk at sunset.  Admire the silhouettes of the trees in winter, the sulphurous pink flowers in spring.  Have a glass of wine, a cup of tea.  Enjoying yourself is the only revenge.

Every week, submit yourself to some self-examination.  How secure are your practices? Are you tightened up?  Can you be blindsided?  Be rigorous about your laxness.

There will be days that you need to set multiple alarms in order to get up.  If you need to power up with more than one cup of coffee in the morning, don’t go in. Take those days off.  Those are the days that you’ll trip up. Don’t ever throw cold water on your face in order to wake up. Go back to bed.

Work on your skill at softball. You can play on the team and brown nose the administrators upon whom you would like to throw battery acid.  Be as appealing as possible whenever there is an administrator around, but learn how to evade them.  Don’t question them ever. A smiling face is a defiant face.

Your skill at brownnosing can make you the envy of the other teachers. Don’t be a show-off.  Pretend you disdain administration.  Watch the other slackers in your building. They are your school’s true professionals.  Admire and respect them.

Once you start doing these things, the fire will go out and the oilier you will become.  Soon there will be nothing left of your former convictions. The best part about apathy is that once it settles in, the harder it becomes to shake. The days will bleed into each other and before you know it, it will be June.  It’s time to be giddy with delight.

Stick to this process–like glue–and you will survive. If you do not, you will grow sad and sour.  You will be wiped out. Let others serve as a cautionary tale to you.

If you get through a year without a parental complaint or getting called down to an administrator, congratulate yourself. Job well done.  Surviving is an art.

This is the only path forward, and the good news is that many of these things can be learned by osmosis.  You don’t have to purchase a how-to guide.  A pound of commonsense and a dash of experience, and you can do these things well, too.  Teaching can be fun, in its way, when you follow my basics.

I am not offering you any motivational nonsense.  I offer you the cleverest tips for keeping your job and your sanity. Do not let any book, any workshop change your mind about this.  You can only be miserable and enslaved if you allow yourself to be.  Do not repeat the mistakes of other teachers.  Your biggest mistake can only be not listening to me. I am your light in the dark.

Guest Post: The Life of an American Teacher

As always, the opinion of American Teacher are not mine, but are posted to stimulate discussion.

It took me just six months to realize that students have no interest in Sophocles or Beowulf. They don’t know who Epictetus, Montesquieu, and Locke were; and moreover, they do not care.  They are not driven to learn.  Education begins not with teachers, not with schools, but with desire, insatiable desire.  The generation that will replace us lacks desire.  The secret to their hearts is apathy.

This total absence of desire was crystallized one afternoon many years ago when I was helping a student with his paper.  I turned to look at the boy to make sure he understood.  He wasn’t looking at the paper.  He had not been listening.  He had been looking at the back of my head.  I stared at this shining example of apathy.  “Can I go pee?” he finally asked.  I nodded.  The past six months became clear.  I realized then that none of my students were fired up and that it was beyond my capacity, indeed any teacher’s capacity, to fire them up.  Any warm, fuzzy illusions that I still harbored about teaching teenagers were swept away.

That students found no interest in learning did not make me inconsolable.  Students taught me and I learned from them.  I learned to be deeply practical.  I learned to separate my job from my life.  I learned to swallow my saliva and withhold comments.  I learned that rules do not apply.  I learned to shape my own destiny and I came to believe that everyone, including students, shapes their destinies.  How burdened would I be had I not been such a quick learner.

I make a handsome living.  What with health benefits and life insurance, I make well over six figures.  I pay less than $50 a month for health insurance.

By contract, teachers work 185 days a year.  The reality is a lot less.  There are the sick days and personal days.  I take all of them.  Mid-term week and finals week, just sit there.  All the other testing days, whether mandated by the state or given by the teacher.  Field trips.

Movies.  Guest speakers.  Half days.  Snow days.  Delays due to weather.  Evacuations due to threats.  Assemblies.  Goof-off days like the last day of school and the day before Christmas break.  The list seems endless.

I have evolved techniques to get through the rest of the year.  Technology is my friend.  My classes spend Mondays in the computer lab doing “research.”  Some weeks, we need to do more research.

The Scantron machine is also a friend. After collecting the tests, I run them through the machine.  I don’t think that I’ve graded a test in years.  Ditto for papers.  I found a computer program that grades them for me.

I celebrate everyone’s birthday.  Cupcakes are cheap.  And they’re tax deductible.

It’s wonderful to have good friends.  One of my friends is an assistant principal, who makes out my schedule every year.  Every teacher has a duty, such as a study hall.  My duty is to help the assistant principal.  I go out and get coffee, breakfast, whatever she needs.  We sit and eat, gossip while she qvc shops.

I found myself discovering all sorts of little freedoms.  I use my prep period to run errands, go to the bank, pay bills, get some shopping done.  Sometimes, I go home and let the dog out.  Unless it is pouring outside, I take care of me during my prep.

I became sly and wily. I park my car in back of the school behind a dumpster.  Being able to sneak in late and sneak out early is worth the awful smell.  I shirk every responsibility that I possibly can.  Only if it is absolutely necessary and I need a spawn of Satan kicked permanently out of my room do I write a report.

What could be easier than all this?

I do this because it does not matter.  I could stay at school until ten o’clock every night, designing lessons and correcting papers and nothing would change because at some point, at the end of some very long day, it is up to students.  My students were a bad influence on me.  They have dragged me to their depth.  They and the parents, administrators, education professors, and politicians who abet them are the villains of this tragedy.

Listening to their vulgar, slang-filled conversations, I look at my students as a form of entertainment.  I hear about everything in their lives, from acts of physical intimacy to bowel movements.  At sixteen and seventeen-years old, their slates are still blank.  I do not believe that they have been endowed with complex brains.  There are students who sit in class, staring straight ahead, doing absolutely nothing.  I used to think that they were thinking deep thoughts.  Now I realize they think about nothing at all.  They are like old men in wheelchairs that you see in nursing homes.  One day I expect to see someone drool.  Their frontal cortex, that part of the brain which runs short-term memory, motivation, and attention, seems severely stunted.  I am convinced that our closest genetic cousins, the chimpanzees, are more mentally active than these kids.  Sometimes I give them little art projects where they can color.  Based upon my experiences in the classroom, I am no longer sure that I know human beings when I see them.  The ones that I don’t like I largely ignore.

I learned this all in just half a year.  The outrage at student apathy vanished.  I stopped trying to fix people and became happy in my impotence.  I’m just a teacher in a classroom.  If students do not see that education is in some sense a matter of survival, then I cannot make them see it.  It’s not my job to save people’s lives.  I am not a venal person.  I am a realistic one.

All of my teacher friends are like me, but not all teachers are like me.  There’s one teacher who constantly says to her students, “Thank you for the gift of you.”  You’ll never hear me say that.  Another one crouches besides her students as she talks to them. It’s not a pretty sight.  You’ll never see me do that.  Then there was the teacher running after the student who was walking briskly away from her: “Please, let me help you,” she beseeched the girl.  You will never see me plead with a student.  There was also the teacher who said to me, “While we’re here, we’re everyone’s mom and dad.”  I’ve never had a thought remotely like that.

Some teachers get genuinely upset at snow days or two-hour days.  “I have to get through the curriculum,” they gripe.  The only thing that perturbs me is having to make up a day in June.  I love delays.  “Twenty-minute classes are my kind of day,” I think.  We don’t have to make those up.

I recognize that my apathetic students are casualties of failed parenting and pedagogical practices.  When everything is handed to them, from food to study guides, students cannot be induced to work.  The more they are provided for and the more indulged they are, the more lazy they become.  Socialist-inspired handouts have killed desire in students.  Now, they don’t care.  So I don’t care either.  No one can be as invested in his education as the student himself.  My classroom just holds a collection of bodies.  Dedication is unnecessary when you are working with kids who don’t give a damn.

Guest Post by an American Teacher: Children From Hell

The following is a Guest Post by an anonymous American Teacher who does not want to be identified. I do not endorse the opinions expressed. I present them in order to stimulate discussion on an issue of interest to readers. Comments are, as always, welcomed. –Ted

I am not the norm.  In the free-for-all of other public school classrooms, there is all manner of dining.  Not in mine.  Food is for lunchtime and in the cafeteria. I do not allow students to munch in my room.  So when Dylan brought in a hoagie from Subway, a truly awful transgression, I told him to go to the cafeteria.  He ignored me, his body hunched in an obstinate fashion.  I told him again.  Students turn nasty when corrected. Dylan put the sandwich in the bag and chucked it at me.  My stomach lurched.  It is unsettling to have something thrown at you.  You can’t suddenly switch to having a civilized class.  And writing reports on students usually causes an uproar with parents. Students always have the last word and the version of the teacher gets scant attention.  With parents backing them, there is no price for students to pay.

I have met students like Dylan not just once or twice, but again and again.  These are the Children from Hell that it is my burden to manage and accommodate.

A false impression, that the Obama administration created the discipline problems in public schools that allowed for the likes of Nikolas Cruz to run amok, reigns among some on the American right.  It is true that Obama signed off on programs such as My Brother’s Keeper and used his power to investigate racial disparities in public school discipline; however, discipline problems were wreaking havoc in America’s schools long before he took office.

Sometime between when I graduated high school and when I began to teach high school, wisdom died.  The problems of the street and home entered the calm and boring classroom; student performance declined; the expectations of teachers were lowered.  The public schools changed direction because the bedrock of society, the family, was crumbling.  The younger generation depends upon the older to do the right thing, but today the moral authority of the parents is nonexistent.  In the absence of a sense of right and wrong, families stopped working with schools towards compatible goals.  They became adversaries.  Nothing is worse than a parent not supporting the school their child attends.

As any administrator will tell you, they can’t control the parents. All that they can do is go after teachers. Go after us they did.  We are saturated with workshops on classroom management and differentiating instruction. It is easy to see through the nonsense.

Mountains of gobbledygook have been produced on the subject of classroom management, the tricks that education consultants swear will get kids to behave.  By its very nature a political term, classroom management dictates the way people speak about student misbehavior in class.  Instead of the onus on the student to behave himself, the onus falls on the teacher to manage the class.  The public is seduced by the shift because it lets parents off the hook for their children’s misbehavior.   Administrators breathe the air of classroom management because they don’t have to discipline students.  They can send the teacher to a reeducation camp.  If the student does something wrong, the teacher is either not engaging enough or is not managing the students properly.  Maybe they are even looking at the student the wrong way and the student is feeling uncomfortable.  The same classroom management strategies are uncritically repeated in education classes and workshops year after year, but the information is of little use.  There are no tricks, just a teacher putting up with increasingly bad behavior.  Nevertheless, the rules of the classroom have been changed. It is no longer possible to say something critical of students. The term classroom management has even ensnared the teacher into believing that disruptions are somehow his fault.

At the time that the moral authority of the family lost its compass, we also began accommodating students, completely accepting their differences, from the socio-economic to the ethnic and cultural to the bad day.  A bad day can be very bad, very bad indeed.  It might simply mean that the student was concussed in a car accident the previous week.  The student may have trouble refraining from cursing out a teacher for the length of the concussion.  Or she may feel anxious about returning to school and need home-tutoring for a month.  Let me tell you, it is not easy being a teacher, having to accommodate all of these misfits…oops, I meant scholars.

When the moral authority of the family collapsed, dysfunction hit the schools. One thing that students never fail at is dysfunction.  Now it is up to the school to fix it. Upon arrival, students get to go to counseling, lounging in peach-painted offices instead of history class, sitting on soft cushions embroidered with flowers rather than upright in a chair in front of a heavy text. They can leave regular class and go to their own sort of personal AA meetings with a school psychologist or social worker.  Giving students this space, to ramble on about the problems in their lives, simply means the problems develop a stranglehold on them and their schoolwork never gets done.  To feel better about yourself you actually have to accomplish things.  Perhaps a little repression is not such a bad thing.  Maybe therapy should be illegal in the public schools.

Classroom management and accommodating students changed the political climate of education.  Expecting the school system to become the parent is an impossibly tall order, but as parents do less and less parenting, they more and more expect the schools to raise their offspring and then they want to dictate to other adults about how to do it. Parents want to be pleased and to please them you have to tell them what they want to hear or they are all over you like a rash.  These parents have broken the teachers’ authority and thrown the whole system of public education into question.

Although difficult to find, there are still mommies and daddies in the same home, but there are also parents who have affairs and leave home.  Others either have criminal records or are in jail.  Too many just want to be their offspring’s friend.  Because telling one’s child ‘no’ is absent from this parenting curriculum, lippy children are never out of print.  Children are not getting nicer and nicer.  It is not wonderful to be with them, particularly when they throw things at you.  The respectable and well-brought up do not come to us.  We are sent Satan’s spawn.

Perhaps it was the way that I looked at him, perhaps it was the tone of my voice, but nevertheless, that Spawn of Satan who chucked his food at me should have been compelled to say aloud, in front of his class, an apology.  Instead he was simply shuffled off to some other class.  No doubt the shuffle has left him with a scar.

Public schools have been manipulated into trying to cure familial problems; however, schools cannot mend the problems of dysfunctional students and their parents.  One institution cannot save the other.  And progress, new-fangled pedagogical and social ideas, is destroying us.