So I’ve been reading Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, and I really like it. I’m only maybe 50 pages in and I’ve already found a lot of stuff I can really identify with.
It surprised me at first that he spends so much time talking about himself rather than the classroom, and what in his life brought him to teaching. But the more I think about it, this is integral. You are the kind of teacher you are depending on what person you are. Your life experiences definitely shade how you teach.
What is going on in your life before you get there, and during your teaching career, affect you, your students, the whole environment of your classroom. So for him to talk about the girl he had a crush on at teaching school makes perfect sense. Having that crush changed the person he was, and the way he taught.
It made me think that my mom dying of cancer during my first year of teaching definitely shaded the way I taught and probably how I treated my students. If that hadn’t happened, I’d be a different kind of teacher (ex-teacher now, that still stings to think it). My mom died suddenly and tragically, and so that probably made me extra caring about my students, about not wanting to “lose” any of them. This made me a better teacher, but also a much more fragile one, because if I did lose a student, I took it personally. Very personally, like it was entirely my fault. My mom dying when she did may have caused my burn-out. Certainly not the only cause, but who knows? Your life experiences definitely color what kind of career you have.
Another thing that strikes me is how he suggests that because teaching is so all-encompassing, it truly does become your whole life. It’s like being a parent to 200 kids. It shades how you behave, even how you think, because you are surrounded all day long by young people. You start to act like 8th graders, you start to talk like 8th graders, you maybe even start to think like an 8th grader. Your whole life is school, school, school, every minute of every day, so when you are finally around adults, they may notice you acting strangely.
It might be like a stay-at-home mom who spends her whole day interacting with children finding it difficult to interact later with adults. I have no idea what this is like, so I won’t even venture the comparison. But I could definitely identify with Mr. McCourt saying he found himself behaving strangely around adults because he was so used to interacting with teens.
I can recall faculty meetings where the teachers were twice as bad as the students they were yelling at. The facilitator would have to ask numerous times for people to be quiet, teachers would throw paper balls at each other, tell jokes, whisper behind their hands, even pass notes. It’s like after a day of being dictators and yelling this was their time to let off steam, to act like the kids, the “bad” kids they were supposed to be molding. And sure, I was right in there with them. Molding kids day after day is exhausting. You definitely need time to cut up and have fun……….and a boring meeting on a “Better Way to Teach the PSSA” is definitely prime time to do it.
I have found myself laughing at fart jokes more often, giggling, acting in a “hormone frenzy” like 8th graders do. I have picked up mannerisms, sayings (“Dab It Up!”), music, but thank god, not the clothes. So much of it seems recycled 80’s wear, and I went through that thank you very much.
During my early, insecure days of teaching I would even go so far as to wonder if I was “cool” enough for these kids. I shudder to think about it now, but back then it was important. I wanted them to “like” me. Now, I’m much more able to be myself and could give a shit whether they like me or not. But I admit, there were moments when I would reflect on an episode and wonder if I had handled it like a teacher who’s “young and cool and laid-back” or more like a matronly fuddy-duddy. Even outside of school I shudder inside when I hear myself sounding like my Mom.
I’m sure I’ll still have these moments now that I’m out of the classroom. Hindsight is 20-20, and I had no idea how much my life was “school, school, school” while I was in it. I really like teaching, but I guess I don’t want it to be my whole life either. I want to interact with adults for a while. I hope I never “grow up” entirely, life would be pretty boring, but being and doing and interacting with 8th graders can like McCourt says, “drown” you after a while. I need some air.