I’ve been teaching for five months and I hate it. I hate it more than anything I’ve ever done before. This isn’t the dull hatred where you drag your feet and sigh at the grey day. This is raw and vicious; the kind of hatred where losing isn’t an option so you stand up and fight with everything you have. This is hatred laced with so much passion, that if you squint hard it looks an awful lot like love.
But love doesn’t eat away at you. Teaching is devouring me. Literally. Since I’ve started, I’ve lost 14 pounds living on a diet of grease, sugar and caffeine. Every morning, I wake up two hours before my alarm, heart pounding because what if? What if the lesson plan falls through? What if the boys in the back fall asleep again? What if I run out of material and I’m left with twenty empty minutes? Every month or so I wake up in tears, because I can’t. I just can’t.
But there are 30 students waiting for me in a classroom. So I get up and I go.
And then somehow I am in front of the class room and the kids are looking at me. Their heads are tilted and they are waiting. For wisdom, for knowledge, for something to put in their pockets and keep as a touchstone. In short: an education.
If it’s a really bad day, the silence grows longer and they’re just waiting for me to say something.
To cope, I’ve taken to drinking. Caffeine, but if I drank, I’d enter class tipsy. As it is, I enter class caffeinated out of my mind, floating somewhere around the thin cirrus clouds of Everest, and there, head full of sunbeams and soaring eagles, I am able to open my mouth and pour out streams of something. Mostly bullshit.
And the kids?
They sit up and pay attention.
Then they ask questions. Teacher, how do I write a good essay? Teacher how do I improve my speech? Teacher, what does it mean to be a good person? Teacher, I fought with my girlfriend, what should I do?
If I had the answers I’d be writing self help books and giving motivational speeches across the world. I wouldn’t be an utterly clueless 20-something. I would be someone else, somewhere else. Somewhere that wasn’t a classroom.
But the kids are waiting. So I do my best.
It’s never very good.
Still, wide eyed, the students soak up whatever I come up with. During moments when my friends would say that’s shit, and my parents would say, stop this nonsense, my students nod and cling to my words like they are buoys.
I suck it up like the caffeine I’m always nursing. Solely for the sake of their attention and adulteration I will work myself to the bone preparing lesson plans that will get them up and out of their chairs shouting and laughing until class ends in a mad frenzy.
There are teachers who are motivated by what is best for their students, teachers driven by a passion to help others. I’m not one of them. Every class is a performance, and I do my work because I’m afraid of getting booed off of the stage.
I’ve had classes where the kids have picked up pieces of their desks and thrown them at each other. I’ve had classes where the kids cheer as soon as I enter. Sometimes these are the same class.
What I don’t think about is that at school, the standards for entertainment are low. Any joke is funny. Anything different is worth paying attention to, and fundamentally, no matter what I say or do, the students still have to pay attention. If they don’t, I can tell them they are bad students, a disappointment, I can even howl: I need you to pay attention. Need, not want. Need, like I have a right to it, like whatever I am going to say is more important that the smooth pebbles of thought tumbling through their minds.
If I do this long enough, I’m going to start believing I’m funny, that I’ve got answers, and what I have to say is so important it’s worth demanding 30 people shut up and listen to me so I can say it.
Yesterday night, at 11:00 p.m. a student called me. I was to talking to my boyfriend after a ten hour day at school, but I took the call because. Because I wanted to be there for my student. Because I was too tired to consider ignoring her.
Teacher. Teacher can you help me?
I’m 24. I can barely cook pasta. I wear slip on shoes because most days shoe laces confuse me. I have absolutely no answers except ‘I don’t know’ and sometimes I’m not even smart enough to say that. I wanted to say, Kid, don’t waste your time asking me for help.
Who says that to a student?
Instead, I lied through my teeth, as I do every day:
Of course, I can help you, darling. What do you need?