June 18, 2022
Looking out for number one. It takes one to know one. One loves one’s BBC. A Room of One’s Own. One step at a time. One giant step. One step ahead. All in one breath. If it’s not one thing it’s another one thing. One thing leads to another. It’s all one, baby. It’s a three-day weekend before the last ONE, my last work day of the school year, the last public school day of my career. I’m getting a head start on this one because I know, that between spinning the remaining records in my classroom music library and cleaning and packing and boxing and cleaning and packing and boxing, I will have precious little time to write on Tuesday. And I will likely be somewhat of an emotional wreck.
I found myself awake at 5 in the morning today. Couldn’t get back to sleep. I’m excited for my retirement party this afternoon, maybe that’s what woke me and made it difficult to go back. But there was a change already in the way my body responded to not being able to sleep when I know I should be sleeping. Usually, that feeling is stressful–that constantly looking at the clock to see how much time has passed, the fretting over not being able to get enough rest required to get through the day, bargaining a trade-off between a little more sleep, a few more snoozes, and no shower, no shaving, cereal instead of eggs, anything that might squeeze out a bit more time for z’s. This morning I thought to myself, I can’t get back to sleep–and I smiled.
So what are we writing about today on this third calendar day before the very last day? One of the things I hoped to do before I was done with the countdown to retirement was to make a list (I love making lists) of the things I wouldn’t miss about teaching in a public high school and the things I would miss very much. So as not to end on a downer, I thought it would be appropriate to list those things I would NOT miss first, a kind of ten things I hate about teaching–or rather (because I have never found myself hating the work that I do), a list of my ten very least favorite things about the profession.
I will NOT miss:
- Managing student behavior–in all of its ugly variations: listen while others are talking, don’t throw shit, clean up after yourself, keep your hands to yourself, use classroom appropriate language, use respectful language, respect this space and things that don’t belong to you, put garbage in the garbage, put recycling in the recycling, show up on time, use the time you have now to do the thing you’re being asked to do now, no, you can’t fall asleep here, don’t line up at the door, put away your phone, take the earbuds out, put away your phone, take the earbuds out, put away your phone, put away your phone. I have always understood this stuff to come with the territory, to be part of the job–but it’s not why I got into the game and has always been my least favorite part of the gig.
- Hall passes, generally, but specifically, Mr. Jarmer, can I use the restroom? Now? Happily, I will never again give anyone permission or deny anyone permission to go to the restroom.
- Grading. I hope never to grade anyone ever again for anything. It has forever been for me the most frustrating and unresolved dichotomy of the work—grading and learning have almost nothing to do with one another. And let’s lump into the bargain the age-old phenomena of grade-grubbing. Mr. Jarmer, I need an A in this class. Okay, why are you telling me about this?
- Student growth goals. ‘Nuff said.
- The dizzying and frenetic pace that must be sustained from one day to the next. My general modus operandi has always been that of a chicken without a head. Too much to do and not enough time to do it–ALL THE TIME.
- The pressure, either real or imagined, to be good, a good person, always, in every situation. Teachers, while often trashed publicly, are expected to be almost saintly in their benevolence, their equanimity, their unequivocal acceptance and love for the children in the community. It happens that, because I tend toward altruism and friendliness for other human beings, and I genuinely like young people, I strive to be kind and compassionate with my students. But there are limits to my capacity, for kindness especially, in the face of ugliness, mean spiritedness, apathy, indifference, willful ignorance, and stupidity. I will not miss that necessity, felt on a near daily basis for the last 33 years, to hold my tongue.
- Self Censorship. On a similar note, in a professional capacity, there have always been aspects of my identity that I could never share–and for good reason, I think. But the wish to be authentic with students always falls short when you realize there are things that you can’t or shouldn’t talk about. Some people claim that teaching is an apolitical act. That is fundamentally false–but still, to be open with students about one’s politics or religious views is pretty much verboten. I have been for the last thirty years a closeted atheist and super ambiguous perhaps about my bleeding heart liberalism. And yet–I have never encountered (or taught) a piece of literature worth reading and studying that had a conservative or fascist bent, nor have I ever found a work of literary art that was somehow indifferent to ideals of justice or ethics. Literary art is ubiquitously liberalizing. The accusation that I was teaching with a liberal agenda has only been made to me once in an entire career, when in reality (or if I was being truly honest and authentic), that accusation could have been made every day. The misunderstanding and abuse of the word “liberal” in our culture and in our school system has always baffled me. Just look up the damn word, and tell me if it is not something worth aspiring to.
- The never-ending trends of educational reform that are, in reality, anything but reform, almost always delivered top-down and rarely by people inside actual classrooms. My dear colleague, Mr. Jeremy Shibley, before he retired half way through this school year, wrote a letter to the staff in which he listed almost every reform initiative he could remember from his 34 years. It was a dizzying list–and perhaps the most significant takeaway might be that none of these efforts really transformed what and how we taught in any substantive way. Teachers always have done and will continue to do the thing they know is best for their students, and through self-reflection and in collaboration with others they will find new and better ways to “reform” their practice, education trends and buzzwords and initiatives be damned.
- Lock-down drills. It’s hard to know where to begin on this one. If you would have told me in 1989 that in the not-so-distant future there would be a spate of active shooters invading grade schools, middle schools, and high schools for the purpose of massacring children and teachers, I would have thought you were insane. And now that insanity is a reality–and nothing brings it home faster than a lock-down drill. Nothing is more out of place and wrong in a public school than the necessity of teaching children how to hide in the dark away from doors and windows, be quiet for a very long time, stay off their phones, and, in the event that a shooter enters their classroom, how to throw staplers and chairs and tables at the assailant. And nothing is more stupid and dangerous and deranged than our society’s love of the gun and its inability or unwillingness to keep military style weapons out of the hands of 18 year old civilians who are so lost and nihilistic and amoral as to see this kind of death and destruction as their only way forward. I have never felt unsafe in my school. Never. But I have lost hours upon hours of sleep morbidly imagining the worst case scenario. And at work I have found myself obsessing over locked doors; my classroom has two points of possible entry–and outside one of those doors, a staggering FOUR other doors that potentially lead to my room and my students.
- On a much lighter note: The last thing I’m not going to miss? Administrators who run meetings with slideshow projections that are impossible to read.
Well, then, if you’d like to see the 10 things I will indeed miss about teaching at a public high school, I think I’ll have to ask you to come back tomorrow. This first list ran away from me. It would be too much to ask of you to hang in there for another 1500 words. And, because I haven’t written the next 1500 words yet, too much to ask of myself as well. Until tomorrow, or the next day, or Tuesday, the last day, cheers.