Teachers burn out. Teachers turn cynical. Teachers start treating their job as a job, swiping in and out at the bell. Teachers become union people, thinking about their paycheck and job security. There are a million ways that teachers go bad. I'm on a mission to keep it positive, to focus on the students, to avoid the pitfalls of the profession.
Are you, too, wondering how to keep the flame of idealism lit? Just follow these steps:
1. Walk to work. Or take public transportation. Or, if you must drive, park several blocks away and walk from there. Become one with the city, the neighborhood. The sounds, the smells, these are the things you want to preserve. Say hello to the dog walkers. To the students showing up early for before-school activities. Feed a squirrel. Read the graffiti and see if you recognize the handwriting. Clear your head. Think of all those papers you neglected to mark last night and come up with an excuse for the students. Make it a personal excuse. They love hearing things like, I had a fight with my girlfriend/wife/lover.
2. Show up to work early. Avoid the teachers in the main office that arrive right before the school day begins. They are the ones that get your day off to a rotten start with comments about the lousy parking situation, the noise in the hallway, the asthma they have because of the crumbling walls in their classrooms. In fact, if you can, swipe in, empty your mailbox, and head out of the office before the principal's secretary or some assistant principal can spot you and ask for your lesson plans. Run for the safety of your classroom.
3. Turn up some loud music. Make it something that will wake you up. Make it something annoying enough that will prevent your co-workers from stopping by. And something cool enough to repulse all but the coolest of your students. Lately, it's been the Clash for me, but also the new Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Daft Punk.
4. Drink way too much coffee.
5. When students start trickling in, insist on high-fiving them. This will warm up their hearts and get blood pumping into their hands, which they will then use to write fascinating yet error-filled essays and poems.
6. Never, ever take yourself seriously. Understand that if you take yourself seriously in a room full of teenagers, there will be exactly one person in the room who thinks you're a serious and intelligent individual. Be willing to laugh at yourself when you spill coffee on the front of your pants--"Whoops! Looks like I've had an accident!"--or when you trip over a power cord. If you're laughing, their laughter won't hurt.
7. When you discover that not a single student is listening to you, realize that this is excellent practice for your next role in life: The Crazy Guy On The Bus Talking That Everyone Pretends Not To Hear. Start saying outlandish things. One or two kids will listen and laugh, and the rest will wonder what they're missing.
8. Eat your lunch in your classroom. Avoid the food and people hanging out in the teachers' cafeteria. They will poison your sandwich with gossip about pregnant girls and losers and drug dealers and drunks and hall walkers. Instead, invite those castoffs into your classroom during lunch and have plenty of tissue on hand for when the tears start flowing--theirs and yours.
9. After school, sit at your desk and grade some papers. Until one or two heads pop in your room. Then, talk for hours about dreams and goals and college life and girls and the weekend. Teenagers will keep you young. They will make you realize that you wasted your youth, just the way they are wasting theirs. And you will realize that, maybe you're wasting your adulthood on adult things. So you will leave work with a new sense of purpose to experience new things, to go out there and live, to never again regret wasting a beautiful or even not-so-nice evening.