Last week, I had a student pass out in class. By the time I had walked over to him to try and turn him around and make sure that he was still breathing, he had already regained consciousness. When everything was settled down and he had gone to the office so his parents could be called, a kid in my class said that I had "moved so fast!" Another kid said that I had done a really good job with the situation. But what goes on in my head? All of the things that I could have done differently.
That, in a nutshell, is what teaching is like for me. I realize that there are a few teachers out there who sometimes read this, so I know that they're experiences will vary, but essentially the following is what the job is like for somebody with my particular set of neuroses and idiosyncrasies. Your mileage may vary:
1. Teaching means that every day before work I have a miniature nervous breakdown. No, I'm not running around the room and panicking, but think of how you feel before you have to give an oral presentation. (Unless you're part of the 2% of the population that has absolutely no fear of it.) Dial it down a little bit and that's pretty much how I feel every day. The only reason it gets dialed down is due to the fact that it's become so familiar. Of course, it always gets ramped up a bit at the beginning of the school year.
2. Teaching means that my brain is always in the classroom. Even when I'm doing something else and relaxing, my mind is either thinking of new ways to go about certain lessons or replaying conversations and discipline issues that I wished that I had handled differently. Sometimes my mind is anticipating conflicts and problems that I can see coming up, and I'm thinking of how best to handle them. If you're trying to talk to me and you see me completely zoning out, sometimes this is what I'm doing.
3. Teaching means that your passion is often met with indifference. There are a lot of things that I teach that I think are meaningful, but oftentimes when I try to explain them I'm talking to a crowd who'd rather be talking about who has a crush on whom and making meaningless small talk.
4. Teaching means interacting with the kinds of people whom you would never want to have anything to do with if you had any say in the matter. You know those people you see on Cops? You know, the type that won't shut their mouths despite the fact that the officer has told them repeatedly that they'd get pepper spray in their eyes unless they cut it out? And yet they still wind up getting pepper sprayed and still don't shut up? Those people pass through the public school system.
5. Teaching means that I spend too much time thinking about all of the above. It's a job where you're doing it because you care, but oftentimes your problem is that you care too much. You feel like if you don't reach one kid, you've essentially failed. But then you take a moment to put everything in perspective, and you go through the above list again:
1. Teaching means that I never experience the drudgery of other jobs that I've experienced. One of the reasons why I have my miniature nervous breakdowns is for the simple fact that I care about what I'm doing. Oftentimes, I'm genuinely excited about what I get to teach that day. There are also students (and sometimes even entire classes) who I look forward to seeing. Nothing's worse than going to a job and not caring one way or another about how good a job you're going to do that day. Trust me - I know what that's like, and the though of doing it until your retiring years is terrifying.
2. Teaching means that I actually get to use my brain. I'm a relatively smart person, and I thrive on being challenged. Unfortunately, I'm also a bit lazy in many ways, and I'd never take the time to challenge myself. This forces the challenge upon me, and I've come up with some pretty good lessons. (I'm assuming this because I have had other teachers - some who have been doing this job much longer than me - use my lesson plans.)
3. Teaching means that you actually reach people and make a difference in their lives. When I think back on it, I probably didn't always go into my classes with an enthusiastic look on my face. Still, I can think of several teachers who have definitely improved my life. I guess I'll take it on a bit of faith that I've done the same. And at the risk of sounding like a certain teacher I knew who was an overbearing egomaniac, I have had kids pretty much say so to me. Sometimes I even hear it secondhand. Sure, there might be a lot of indifference, but how many jobs can you do where you even have the opportunity to pass on something valuable? Sure, sometimes it's unwanted, but even if I only reach one kid every year, that's more than I would have had I stayed at some of my previous jobs.
4. Teaching means working with awesome kids. You know those people who go on to make the world a better place? You know, the ones who are scientists, social workers, writers, artists, doctors, (dare I say teachers?) etcetera. I'm talking about the people who are genuinely pleasant to be around - the kind of people who make you think and challenge you to become a better person. They pass through the public school system too.
5. Teaching means that I sometimes don't spend enough time thinking about the above. I guess it's a good thing in a way that I often dwell on the negative. It gives me motivation to improve, and it means that I still care. As difficult as it is sometimes, it would be far worse if I lived a life of apathy.
I just hope that when my time is done, right before the Valkyries take me off to Valhalla, I'll be able to look back on it all and dwell on the second list.