It’s spring break, bitches.
Yesterday I saw a wonderful play written by a woman who worked with my father in television when I was a kid. I’ll call her Evelyn. I haven’t seen Evelyn in almost 30 years.
Embarrassed and through ugly tears, I told her what an inspiration she has always been to me as a writer. Her play was about a high school English teacher. I’m self-centered enough to feel like this is all a big personal kick in the ass from The Universe to yours truly.
Evelyn showed little girl and teenage me that a woman can be a writer. I saw men writing – my father, my stepfather, and the authors of the books I read. My grandma used to tell me with a sigh how she’d longed to be a writer. She was proud of her son through whom she could live her dream, but are our children’s successes ours?
I watched Evelyn during her show, up in the booth, reading glasses on, clearly taking notes. A writer writes. Always. People make excuses and live with regret.
But what about fear? Do I dare? I’ve had such a shit school year. I’ve felt like John Proctor, glibly complaining that “the crazy little children are jangling the keys to the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!” The teacher in Evelyn’s play had just quit her job. It made her fearless. I have no such luxury.
My lives as teacher and writer have become mutually exclusive. I feel like my thoughts and words are owned by my students and their parents now. My self-doubt is like a virus I can’t kick. Is the world being run by people with no sense of humor? Am I just not funny? More and more, I feel I have to push down who I am to do my job. I used to think that what made me unique as a teacher was myself. Sure, I know grammar (maybe I need to review what I know about contractions, eh, GOMI?). I can teach lessons. I can (eventually) grade papers. The difference between my class and someone else’s though is me. Wry, sardonic, sometimes manic, inflexible, sentimental, precise, didactic, often unintentionally pedantic, witty, disorganized, spontaneous, intelligent, forgetful me.
It is impossible to say what I mean!
And to draw out the T.S. Eliot reference:
“I am not Prince Hamlet,/nor was meant to be;/Am an attendant lord, one that will do/To swell a progress, start a scene or two,/Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,/Deferential, glad to be of use,/Politic, cautious, and meticulous;/Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;/At times indeed, almost ridiculous –/ Almost, at times, the Fool”
Forgive my self-indulgence. If my students were to find my blog, the best way to make sure they never read it is to put some actual literature in it, so there you go. I don’t want to be vague, but it’s necessary. It turns out that I am not politic, nor cautious, and certainly not meticulous. All students want is a grade. They don’t want an education, they want a grade. And frankly, that’s all their parents want too. They most decidedly do not want “me.”
One mother wailed, “I can’t believe you gave her such a low score!” (not “I can’t believe she wrote such a bad paper.”)
“She got a B,” I stared at her levelly. “A ‘B’ is a good grade.”
“Ha! Not anymore! It’s so competitive! She’ll never get into college with a B!”
Getting a B was a slap in her face (and it was generous, I assure you – try a little analysis after your quoted passages; it really helps the reader see how your evidence supports your thesis. Also, I recommend topic sentences and paragraph cohesion). She felt free to tell me my assignments are “busywork” and her daughter isn’t “learning anything” from me. If my mother talked to my teacher like that in front of me, I would have been over the moon. “You tell that bitch, Mom!” Ha! Then I’d ditch that a-hole’s class every time I felt like it and tell Mom, “Mrs. Odie was just giving us some bullshit busywork again.” Mom would, of course, excuse my absences.
I’ve spent so much time writing this blog entry. I keep editing and cutting. I can’t say what I want to say. I feel gagged. Shackled. Censored. I am tired. I’d say I became a teacher because I wanted to change the lives of young people, but that would be a lie. I became a teacher because in 1998, I was a college grad with an English degree and I needed a fucking job. In 1998 you needed a college degree and a pulse and you could be a teacher. So I became one.
Somewhere along the line I realized that I DO want to share my passion for critical reading and rhetorical writing with others. I learned to enjoy teenagers, for all their hyperbole (which is the absolute worst thing ever). My colleagues are my best friends. Through the years, I’ve had administrators I respected and others I didn’t. They come and go.
Everything changes. I’m finding my place in this Orwell-Huxley world as both a writer and a teacher. It has to be two different people. Not a writer who teaches or a teacher who writes. A false self and a real one. Or perhaps a splitting. In any event, I have found that in these 6 months I have been too much of the one to be the other.
And that’s got to change.
Evelyn’s influence will not be wasted on me. She deserves better.
Yet, even as I don’t want to be one of those veteran teachers who bitches about “kids today.” I don’t want to be so afraid of having my writing discovered and used against me that I’m too paralyzed to publish a word.
I grow old… I grow old.
I shall drink my Guinness cold.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Mrs. O’Die.
A series of unconnected sentences: For what it’s worth, I was on your side in the grammar discussion 🙂 I wish your kids/parents weren’t shits. I would buy any book you wrote. You are talented, Mrs. Odie, and quite funny. And you know Alan Thicke. Go for it!!
Hahaha! Thanks! You know, in retrospect, I think my argument was more applicable to contractions like “she’s” and “he’s.” Do they stand for “she is” or “she has”? Context should make it clear, but not always. For example, “He’s baked.” Is he stoned, or is there fresh bread waiting for me?
Do you mean this blog is a series of unconnected sentences, or are you referencing something else? When I edited this, I felt that it lacked cohesion, but if I didn’t publish it, another month might have gone by. I’m slowly losing my nerve, and I can’t let that happen.
I think she meant her comment was a series of unconnected sentences, not your blog. I can relate to the feeling of the difference between yours and the other classes is you. One of the partners where I used to work would tell me what arguments to make in a brief, and somewhat how to write them (and I wasn’t a newbie attorney). I remember telling him “at some point you have to let me, my arguments and my writing come through; after all you hired me for me.” And at the end of the day, all you can really be is yourself, work with what you’ve got and use the strengths that are particular to you. And it should be the same for teachers; at some point it’s the teacher’s style, personality or whatever that has to come through. His or her excitement for an author, assignment, lesson or whatever. Otherwise, the district might as well hire zombies from the same mold to teach the curriculum. So, to some degree teachers have lost their individuality. They don’t call it “standardized” for nothing.
Ah, yes. The colon afterwards indicates that. I, of all people, should have noticed that. I think many policy makers, administrators, students, and parents would be happy with a teacher-bot that has no individuality, that can be controlled and standardized. A piece of technology in the classroom like the ELMO and the Smart Board. Students would want it to “play games” and “make learning fun.” I don’t mean to sound bitter. I think the spending cuts to higher education have made college more competitive, so a teacher who won’t hand out an A to every student is now an obstacle to a chance at one of those coveted spots.
Yes, I meant MY comment was a series of unconnected sentences. Thanks, Michael. Though I admit, I’ve had 2 drinks already tonight and am not entirely sure what we’re even talking about anymore (What? I’m a lightweight after years of pregnancy/breastfeeding!). I’m from a family of educators and my parents would laugh in my face if I suggested they go argue a grade for me. Laugh in my face!! Granted, I was a good student, but the sense of entitlement that people have sometimes…it makes me weep for humanity. As does the over use of ellipses. ^^ Write your book, Mrs. Odie, it’ll be a good one.
And yes, she’s or he’s would have helped clarify your point. It’s like when someone is rude to you and for the next 2 days you can’t sleep because you’re thinking about all the things you wish you’d said.
My book. If I could only write my grocery list. Or fill in my summer school application. Of course, the “entitled” student I described was a fantasy version of me. While I did have a parent who insisted that a B was not good enough, and I told about 50 students last semester that “A B is a good grade!!!” it is commonly accepted that only an A is acceptable from an AP teacher. I amalgamate my parent-student-teacher interactions so they never really accurately depict anything in particular, but rather give an overall sense of how I’m feeling.
Is it weird that I feel the need to say that? I don’t know who to blame more, parents, students, or teachers. You know who really chaps my ass? The teacher who gives students passing grades for showing up and turning in work. They don’t even care about the quality of the work, only that it’s completed. When students and parents have had these teachers for years, is it any wonder that a teacher who doesn’t do that seems like the exception to the rule? And because parents and students have successfully negotiated past grades up, they probably figure it can’t hurt to try again. For that, I blame teachers, and yet I also empathize. I’m this close to giving everyone an A and enjoying my “Teacher of the Year” award.
I have definitely had meetings where parents have tried to argue grades, though thankfully not any lately. They want to understand the grades. I don’t know what their kids tell them, except it goes something like this: “I do all of my work all of the time and she light it on fire in front of me while laughing and screaming ‘You’ll never pass!'” And while the parents don’t believe that outright, they’re a little skeptical.
Yes, I too could see you were right in the grammar discussion. “Where’re”…..WTF?
Also, I love your writing.
Thank you kindly. See my comment to the previous commenter. I feel like I’m being as petty as Jonathan Swift arguing that “contest” is a VERB and not a NOUN. But since I have no other skills, I argue the intricacies of grammar.
My heart pounds with fear every time I read my comments. Thank you, again, for yours. I guess we writers are a bizarre lot. So arrogant and insecure.
I love, love, love this! I’m so glad you held your breath and hit “Publish”.
I’m so glad you continue to follow my writing. I love following your story as well.
I am not a teacher, just a parent. Parents annoy me, especially those who waste the time of teachers by complaining about B’s. My daughter is a senior this year. I have contacted her teachers only three times out of 13 years of school. Each time it was warranted (in my opinion) and each time I asked what could we as parents do to help her, not “you suck and you should just give my kid an A because she graced you with her presence”. I know parents like you described and they infuriate me. Try not to let it get you down. I know it must be very hard. I would say that if one child grows to love literature because of you, you have been successful at your job.
I appreciate this. It is and has been very difficult to not let it get me down. I know this too shall pass, which has kept me from despair. Sort of. That and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
I have no idea what it’s like to be a teacher. Being a parent is frustrating and exhausting enough.
Have you ever considered a writing group? Either joining one or forming one?
It is an appealing thought. Too bad Doe Bay is sold out.
If you had a clapping emoji, I would post it here. Mr. Odie would not approve of a beard ride.
Very much hit home with ‘what made me unique as a teacher was myself.’
My kids are long grown and out of school, so I have no input about the teaching problems you face. I do, however, LOVE your blog! I understand the need for privacy, but I would read whatever you wrote in any forum. So if you decide to write elsewhere, please let your loyal followers come along for the ride.
Good teachers who actually care about the kids, are the best and have my undying admiration. I Imagine that you fit into that category quite neatly.
The only quarrel I have with you is RH of BH- Really??? oh my goodness! But my own secret shame is Duck Dynasty so people in glass houses and all that….:)
We all have our secret shame television. Didn’t it feel good to just admit it and get it out there?
I don’t know if I’m a good teacher. Lately, I think not. I’m a mom, teacher, wife, sister, friend, and daughter, but I have to confess, I struggle with all of them. I care about the kids, but more than anything, I want them to learn something. I’ve heard people say, “I loved Mr. So-and-So, but I didn’t learn anything in his class. All we did was watch movies. It was awesome!” That’s my nightmare legacy. Especially if they remember me as being a man.
I work in social media and spend 8+ hours a day online (who am I kidding, it’s way more). I’m one of those people who probably stumbled upon you from googling, “why does Dooce suck so much now” on some Friday night and when I clicked over to your blog, I kept reading and before I knew it was Sunday night and when I came to I felt like I was coming down from a night of bingeing drugs (that’s meant to be a compliment, it was a really good time).
I’m a painter/artist, who has always kept blogs. I’ve always had a desire to write, and share that writing, and now that I have a tiny little following on my website for said artwork, I too feel shackled. I have no idea what to share anymore. I’m afraid I might jeopardize a potential sale, or someone might call me out for being too something or other, and I’ve never been good with confrontation, even behind screens.
Reading you has been so refreshing, and so thank you for keeping it up. Even if it’s only a few posts here and there, I’ll keep coming back.
I really do feel like you are like me, only funnier. 😉
…. Sorry for the run-on sentence. I rarely comment because I’m SO AFRAID OF GETTING IN TROUBLE FOR MY GRAMMAR.
Thank you for being brave. I get that from a lot from people. I guess I have a bit of fun with that stereotype of the English teacher, hair pulled back tightly, glasses perched on the tip of my nose, white-knuckled fist clutching a ruler. It’s because I am a sentimental old softy who can’t read poetry aloud because I cry.
I am touched that you reached out to me, and I thank you for reading. It’s so gratifying to imagine you out there, identifying with my struggle and sharing your own. Here’s hoping we can both be brave enough to stick with it. Please feel free to link your blog when you comment.
That Underwood typewriter you have on your blog is gorgeous. When I was a kid, my dad’s typewriter was this magical thing to me.
I ALSO CRY.
It’s funny, because at first that description is totally how I imagined you, except I also pictured you perpetually smirking behind your coffee mug, or something. Then I read that one entry, something where you mention wanting to get paid to sit on the couch eating cheese, and then I just imagined you to look more like me (soft, often un-showered, cheese-in-hand).
Sorry I’m projecting. I’m just so grateful to find a blog I don’t have to hate-read to enjoy it in the slightest.
The typewriter was a total steal; my sister-in-law told me it’s the one she’s always wanted, that red key against the turquoise. She keeps saying if I don’t use it soon she might steal it, and I believe her. I need to get a new ribbon. It’s such a tease, just sitting there. My dad worked in an office that was outfitted with typewriters in the 90s, they were those MASSIVE semi-electric ones, not so glamourous, but I still loved typing on them. I actually just love typing, in general. I used to copy out books because seeing a creating a wall of text seemed to bring me an immense amount of joy as a kid, and I’d show my mom, who at first thought I was a child prodigy until she realized I DID NOT WRITE HOCUS POCUS.
Do you know what kind your dad had/has?
No, I don’t. There were so many over the years. I’m so old, I remember playing in his office with carbon paper. That’s right. Typing with carbon paper.