Friday, July 1, 2011

Post Facto

The post is dedicated to everyone in my life who does not teach. Or particularly give two hoots about education. I am sorry. (And you’re a bad person for not caring about the kids. But whatever.)

It is a dangerous, highly flammable affair to ask me about teaching. Or public education. Or underprivileged urban students. Despite what I believe has been a concerted effort, I cannot succinctly answer questions about these topics with fewer than 17 sentences.

Even generally vague, I’m-just-making-conversation questions such as, “Do you like teaching?” or “How do you take your coffee?” do not come without a little philosophizing on the complex condition of the education system and, of course, the fate of the free world.

When I was still in college, one of my older friends who graduated a couple of years before me joined TFA. Let’s call him McGowan. He was the first of my friends to dive into the achievement gap and I admired his chutzpah/general enthusiasm. Come September of his first year, however, I found myself less enthralled by his sudden inability to talk about ANYTHING ELSE but teaching. Suddenly, he “had kids.” 90 of them. Every well-meaning, “How’s-life?” Gchat conversation became a diatribe on Kid A’s latest ridiculousness or Kid B’s silly nilly test answer. After this happened once, twice, thirteen times I simply could not summon the interest.

I imagine this is much like when a new mother is physically unable to talk about anything but her new baby. It simply does not cross her mind that her baby-free friends might not want to hear about little Joey’s latest breastfeeding. Her lack of sleep and total body exhaustion do not allow her to view normal conversation as she once did - through the lens of what actually makes for even mildly interesting banter.

What I did not see clearly about my conversations with McGowan that I can fully appreciate now is that he was not telling me about his kiddos or education in general because he genuinely believed that it would enrich my life, but because he was surviving. As his mind, body and desire to make a positive impact waned, his instincts compelled him to share a piece of what dragged him out of bed to a largely hostile classroom every morning at 5:30am. Actually, I have no idea if that’s what was going on for McGowan. Maybe he just enjoyed torturing his friends. But it’s what was going on for me.

I am fairly confident that 1 out of every 15 stories I tell about a student is genuinely funny or interesting. And I am similarly assured that I make a handful of insightful comments about general education practice or policy. But the rest is just survival chatter. I imagine that this phenomenon is not confined to new teachers and new parents. I have heard similar endless, not-actually-entertaining blahblahblah from med students in their residencies and my Dad when describing the new floor plans for our house in enthralling detail.

The common link is consistent, requisite confidence in the largely unknown. Like pre-doctors, new parents and self-made contractors, I think in telling so many stories about my students and over-sharing my general musings about education, I was (OK…am) waiting with each story for someone to raise the red flag. If after each tale no one calls child protective services or suggests I pack up and go home, I must be doing OK. And sometimes I even make people laugh – which is of course a mixture of pity laughter, uncomfortable laughter, bored laughter and genuine laughter – but I’m not complaining.

So I suppose the take-away point is that I while I did not pick up smoking or nail-biting or child-killing as a result of teacher stress, I became a “work blabber.” And to my dearest friends/family, I will make a concerted effort to do this less. As long as you read my blog. And buy me beer. And monitor me for signs of replacement bad habits.

Back to vacationing in Ireland! (Teacher summer mooching off the ‘rents. Like.)

1 comment:

  1. I will buy you tequila and we can make margaritas and watch Arrested Development.