Ah, vacation. One of the true perks of teaching. No matter how much I bitch and moan about what a tough job this is, I cannot deny that my December 20-January 6 holiday break makes up for a shit ton of manure that I endure as a high school English teacher.
A week before break, the mother of a student called to schedule a conference about her kid’s grade (extremely proactive with four teaching days left in the semester). When I answered the phone, it took the parent nearly 5 minutes to even tell me who exactly she was. She started instantly with her epic poem of grievances, and barely drew breath. When I finally got a chance to interrupt, I only got part of a sentence out-a clause fragment, really-before the rosy fingers of dawn introduced yet another Homeric chapter of loathing for yours truly.
I get one of these about every three years. Usually a mother, but not always. Generally regarding her son, but not exclusively. Always about how we do not have a meeting of the minds about his perfection and my incompetence. She did not have a chance to tell me absolutely everything she hated about me as a teacher and a human being, even throwing in that she heard I was a mother, and I must be a terrible one since I have no heart. It was a Friday. I had to leave. I gave her 15 minutes, of which I spoke for about 2, but not consecutively. My obligations couldn’t give way for an unscheduled phone call. I genuinely believe that no human being who has ever had a conversation with this particular person was able to end it without cutting her off.
Not to worry, though, she followed up our conversation with a 2,000 word email about how horrible I am. I know because I used “tools” to word count it, not because I read it. I skimmed it, but in the interest of self-care, I forwarded it to my principal then deleted it.
I am not without faults. I am riddled with faults. Faults run through me like post-fracking Oklahoma. I hate grading papers, so it takes me a long time. I have a philosophical repulsion for posting grades outside of the 5, 10, 15, and 20 week progress dates. So I don’t. What else? Maybe I should have saved that 2000-word email.
Here is what I have noticed: my male colleagues can get away with every single one of my criticized behaviors with nary an exasperated sigh, much less a phone call followed by an email (followed by stomping into two different administrators’ offices, in turn). I used to have a coworker who was the stereotype of the male teachers Robin Williams was juxtaposed with in Dead Poets Society. No one ever said to him “Mr. Scary White Man, you, too, are a parent and should see how hard your class is for my child. Because you also have a child!”
I know, it’s not all about sexism, but it also is about sexism! Remember when Donald Trump said he could go out on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and he wouldn’t lose any support? I have a colleague like that. He could literally tell his classroom full of sycophants that they are moronic pimple-faced dumbshits, and they would dreamily Tweet “Mr. Populist isn’t a pussy; he tells it like it is. #BestTeacherEver #Pizzagate.”
I am exaggerating, of course. They’d never use a semi-colon or capital letters.
Part of my anger is guilt. It always is. Of course I could have taught better! Of course I could have worked harder! Of course I’m not as good at my job as my male colleagues, else why would the students worship those guys despite my superior AP scores?
My teaching role-model is Professor Stromwell in Legally Blonde, played by the exquisite Holland Taylor (I get it, Sarah Paulson; I really do). Confident, at the top of her game, terrifying because if you do not know your shit she will destroy you with a gaze. She has no patience for smart people if they’re obsequious; however, she wouldn’t get impatient with the kid who stutters because when he finally gets it out, it’s the smartest thing anyone’s said in a week, or better yet, it’s an intriguing question. And she smacks students on the heads with pencils.
I just realized that this rant will go on forever if I don’t knock it off. Time to downshift to gratitude. I am grateful. There is so much to be grateful for.
For my family, especially my husband and children. I am extra grateful for my father, since just last week I was reminded that none of us is promised tomorrow with our loved ones when his dear friend died suddenly of a heart attack. I am grateful for my sister who is my best friend and TV-loving soulmate. I am grateful for my friends who know at all times that they are better friends to me than I am to them, but stick with me anyway. I am grateful to have a job that I love, hard as it is, in a world where so many people are struggling.
I am grateful for my life. I thank the Universe. I thank you.