We’re people, just like you!
It seems like everyone has a lot to say about teachers. We do the job just to get summers off, we handle discipline and behavior issues the wrong way or we don’t understand mental health issues. On the flip side, there are the people that say that teachers change lives or give students wings or whatever else Target prints on tote bags and mugs this year.
As I enter my 10th year of teaching high school, I don’t know if any of those things are true. I do know that I try to show up and do a good job for the kids in my classes so that they like school, love learning and are happy to be in my classroom. That said, it is hard to live your professional life on a stage of sorts, with a constantly rotating audience, many of whom are not interested in and would prefer to not be at your show.
It’s the beginning of August, and I know that means that families across the country are waiting to find out who will be teaching their kids, what their schedule will be and dreading that day when the alarm goes off early and summer vacation is officially over.
This school year, I encourage you all to consider the fact that teachers, whether they are nice, mean, tidy, sloppy, young, old, confusing, kind or just weird, are people too. To help you understand what I mean by this, I am going to describe to you four short and very true experiences for my teaching career.
If you or your kids are struggling with a teacher this year, try to picture them in one of these scenarios — it will either help you empathize with them or laugh at them. But hopefully it will help you find a way to be nice to them and treat them with kindness because you never know what they might be dealing with behind the curtain.
Sometimes we drop our dry erase markers
In February of last school year, I bought a new pair of cute blue pants at J.Crew. I wore them to school with a t-shirt and a short denim jacket. That day, I was teaching about the structure of DNA and how it encodes biological information. As I was waving my arms to illustrate this point, I dropped my marker. Spry and agile from my intense gym workouts, I kept my back straight and bent my knees, quickly dropping to the ground to pick up the marker. As I did, I felt and heard a terrifying ripping sound. The seat of my pants had split from the crotch all the way up to the belt loop. If the sound wasn’t enough, I could feel the breeze blowing on my exposed butt cheeks. Luckily I have an aquarium with a loud pump that covered up the noise, and I saw from the kids slack-jawed faces, that they were unaware of the situation.
Poker faced as ever, I went on teaching, trying to make my voice sound extra perky and interesting. I backed up to the board and as smoothly as I could, slid out of my jacket and tied it around waist. The day passed very slowly and without my jacket on, I was freezing cold. But each of my classes learned their DNA lesson — and I decided not to buy pants at J.Crew anymore.
So if this year, your teacher seems a little jumpy or nervous, maybe it’s because she is one small breeze away from baring her ass to the entire class!
Sometimes we have smelly farts
A few years ago, I was standing around the lab tables in my classroom giving them instructions when without warning, I let an SBD (silent but deadly) fart slip out. Like any normal person, I tried to make fanning my arms and walking around in a tight circle look natural to try to diffuse the smell, but the damage was done. It was a fairly rowdy class already, and I knew if they figured out it was me, I would be all done for. As the smell started hitting the kids nostrils, I was suddenly saved when one student blurted out, “Woah, Matt, you farted again! You’ve got to stop doing that!”
Of course, Matt, a good natured but justice-seeking student denied the charge. The kids spent the next few minutes passing around the blame as I got out a large box fan and pointed it towards the door. The only person safe from their suspicion was me. I’m not sure if this is because they viewed my with such awe and respect that they didn’t dare consider it could have been me or if I just hadn’t done a very good job teaching them that year and they weren’t very good problem solvers or thinkers.
I’m not saying you should blame your teacher if your classroom smells like farts this year. But I do want you to remember that no one is exempt from releasing a little gas every now and then. And when it happens, maybe you could be the one to help plug in the fan.
Sometimes we get wet feet
I gave birth to my daughter during my first year of teaching so in my second year of teaching, I was struggling with a fairly new job and a fairly new baby. It was hard, finding clothes that fit my weird and constantly changing body, pumping in the men’s bathroom at lunch, and still trying to do a really good job getting my students interested in and excited about science.
One day we were doing an activity that required the kids to do jumping jacks for 30 seconds. As I was giving the instructions, they were moaning and groaning. In an attempt to show them that it was no big deal, I decided to model how to do it for them. If you don’t have a vagina or haven’t passed a human head through your vagina, you might not know that after having a baby, holding in your pee becomes much harder. As I started doing the jumping jacks, a tiny trickle of pee started dripping down my leg. The trickle grew to a stream and the stream grew to a gush. As I watched the seconds on the timer tick down, I realized that I was full on peeing my pants in front of a full class of teenagers.
Fortunately for me, this happened on a day that I was wearing a knee length denim skirt and knee high leather boots. The pee ran right down my leg and into the foot of my boot, filling it right up to the ankle. Not knowing what else to do, I just kept on teaching, sloshing around the room, trying to help kids get started on the activity.
Once class was over, I drained my boot, changed into some sneakers I had in my gym bag and finished the day. I probably didn’t do my best teaching that day, but I didn’t quit, and I kept trying. Hopefully this won’t happen to any of your teachers this year, but if they have a day where they aren’t at their best, consider that they might just be trying to make it through the day so that they can go home and change into clean underwear.
Speaking of clean underwear…
Last spring, I spent the last day of a precious three day weekend at a glorious Memorial Day cookout with family and friends. For reasons I won’t get into, I haven’t eaten meat for a very long time. But over the last few months, I had been considering hopping back onto the carnivore carousel. At this cookout, my friend Adam made ribs that everyone was raving about. Looking at my plate of sad potato salad and coleslaw, I decided to try some. I ate two ribs and yes, they were delicious.
When I woke up the next day, I felt some bubbling and gurgling in my intestines. I had heard that eating meat after not eating meat for a long time could cause discomfort, but I doubted those two tiny little ribs would be much of an issue.
I went to school, as always, where I found that instead of settling, my stomach worked and twisted itself into knots all day long. I drank copious amounts of water and found myself sweating as a few particularly painful cramps worked its way through my system. By 2:00, I felt something like the volcanoes I sometimes teach about — I knew I was going to blow, it was just a matter of when.
I was with my last period class, which included one of the most brutally honest students I have ever had. I never lack feedback when he is in my class as he is constantly letting me know if I am being too boring or if I didn’t staple the papers right or if my explanation of a topic is too long or too short.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” he’ll shout, “Just get on with it! We get it!”
On this day, I hadn’t done a good job charming him into finding my lesson interesting, so as 2:05 slowly bled into 2:15 and finally 2:20, this student was heckling me about how stupid my class was. At 2:30, just moments from the end of the day, I felt a wave of nausea pass and I knew I had just seconds before the eruption happened. I bolted for the door and ran to the bathroom.
As I left, I heard the bewildered kids giving my difficult student — “You’ve finally done it,” they congratulated him. “She couldn’t take it anymore!”
They were wrong, I could take it, and did take it and will continue to take it for the upcoming school year and the one after that. Most days will go great with no major mishaps. I hope though, that on the rare occasion that an unfortunate wardrobe or bodily function mishap occurs, my students can remember that I’m a person too, just like them.