I was a few years on the job when I saw this little gem occur. It’s when the whole idea for this book was conceived really. I watched a seasoned teacher walk to her car, I was outside for a little fresh air (the first joys of tenure just setting in) enjoying my Dunkin Donuts iced coffee before returning to the trenches. The teacher I was watching, nearing retirement age, started her car and pulled away but only to park about a block further down away from the school. She sat there for almost the rest of the period. Right before the period was over she made a three-point turn across two lanes of traffic, only a few feet from an intersection (just a walk in the park for any NYC teacher) and took back her original spot. She got out, headed to the crosswalk, quickly crossed, and pretty soon was walking up to me.
I offered her a smile and a head nod. I liked this teacher, still, do. She keeps it real and is old school. She’s like your favorite go-to mixing bowl or pan in your kitchen she’s old as dirt, but she never breaks, is easy to clean, and she cooks your favorites just right. You’d let a second cousin take the fall for a crime you know they didn’t commit before you’d throw this pan out. That’s the love and respect I have for this woman. But…anyways.
“What was that all about?” I asked her.
“What do you mean?” She comes closer to me and I can smell the cigarettes. The smoke clinging to her coat and hair, much like her sanity dealing with these millennials these days.
“You moved down the block only to come back to the spot you had.” I’m more poking fun at her than prying. We have that kind of no small talk bond.
“On you know. Can’t let the kids or the parents see me smoke.”
“Oh, yea. I hear ya.” I give her a light laugh and a nod for good measure. She walks off.
“Later,” I say.
I mean my first thought is…see you? They’re going to smell you a mile away. But that’s just it. She right. It’s the sight. We, teachers, are held to a different standard. Teachers are people, we’re humans…most of us. But we have to be people in private. It’s one of the oddest things about the job that I truly love with all my heart.
It all starts with the influence we have on children. Of course, this is true. And should not be taken lightly. We must model the behavior we want our students to emulate, much like we as parents try to do. But let’s be real. We are not the only adults or things influencing these children’s’ lives. Yet we have to be these enigmas of perfection. No tempers. No foul language. No bad days. No drinking. Infinite knowledge at a moment’s notice.
Like, when people ask the cashier at Home Depot about the correct plumbing fixtures for the bathroom vanity. Do they really expect them to know how to fix a leaky hose bibb? What do you mean you don’t know who the 20th president of the United States was, you’re a teacher! I’m not Google. I have limits. Much like your phones people…limited storage. Storage…do not even get me started about pooping as a teacher. Do people think teachers don’t poop? I know many administrators who must think so. No break for five periods straight? Ask your neighbor to watch your class for a minute. When was the last time you pooped and it only took you a minute?
What about sex? No sexiness. No sexuality outside of work at all… teachers must be asexual. “Mommy isn’t that my teacher over there? The one wearing shorts (cute denim ones that shape your tush just right) singing Bon Jovi at that block party?” No honey, she went to a seminar and she was hoisted up into the canopy of the Amazon by the people from Avatar and that’s how she got pregnant. But I digress…
Smoking is bad for you. So, we cannot be seen smoking. What kind of an example would we be setting? I know a principal that goes to his building’s roof in order to smoke out of sight. Yet a doctor, the educated beacon of health-conscious decisions, can be chain-smoking after a stressful 12-hour tumorous cancer removal procedure (rightfully so) in their smoking section within a few feet outside the hospital doors, and not a word or look thrown their way. Or more appropriately ironic is the parent who is as high-as-a-kite lecturing you on the ways you’re not reaching their child’s needs as they’ve thrown their desk for the thirteenth time this week because we haven’t let them use their IPAD enough as a reward for them doing their daily work.
Oh and did I mention when that desk was thrown, it landed squarely on your ankle. Not just any part, that little boney part that sticks out. Wait, hang on…the…lateral malleolus. You know the part that when you hit it with something at home you scream, probably jump up and down, and yell shit…yea that part. Yeah, next time hold all that good stuff in, keep your cool and say something brilliant.