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.