Wednesday, February 13, 2008

All Hail Teachers!

I promised I would come back to the topic of teachers—a topic about which I'm passionate—and here I am.

I’m talking about why I’ll never be a teacher. And why you shouldn’t be one either, unless you identify with the information below.

My protagonist, Alison Bergeron, is a teacher. And I’m married to a teacher. An experienced, dedicated, innovative, effective seventh-grade homeroom teacher, who also happens to specialize in teaching French. Nobody, besides all of us here at Chateau Barbieri, sees what he does when he’s not in the classroom: grading papers, planning classes, calling parents, responding to emails from colleagues. Nobody sees him get up at five o’clock in the morning so that he can catch the 6:18 a.m. train so that he can be at his desk by 7:45 to drink his one cup of coffee before students arrive. And nobody sees him get off the train at 6:00 at night because his school day is eight hours long and ends after four.

No—what people see is a man who is off for two weeks at the end of March, has a few extra days off around the holidays because he’s on a private school schedule, a man who takes his class to Cape Cod for a seafaring, science adventure every fall, and a man who takes over the lion’s share of the parenting duties in the summer, dropping the kids off at their various camps and activities while his wife slaves away in an un-air conditioned attic (that’s a choice, by the way. I like the heat. It keeps me “hungry.” And it’s a better climate for my shoes, which I keep stashed next to me. At least that’s what I tell myself.)

People’s reaction to seeing him around? “I should be a teacher. That’s some schedule you’ve got!”

Yes, go ahead. Be a teacher. Good luck with that.

To me, that’s like saying to your dentist, “Wow! You’ve got all of this neat oral hygiene equipment AND you make a lot of money? I should be a dentist!” Or to the local police officer, “You mean you can drive fast whenever you want? And wear a sexy gun belt dripping with weapons? And you won’t get a ticket for talking on your cell phone while in the car? I think I’LL be a cop! It sounds fun!”

You know what teaching is? It’s a calling. You don’t wake up one day and decide to teach, you teach because it’s the only thing you ever wanted to do or thought that you’d be good at. You teach because you love kids, want to see them grow and learn, and help them find their own path. You teach because you love learning and want to pass that on to your students.

Which is why I work in an attic, by myself, all day long.

Why, you ask? What about the summers off? What about the extra three days around Christmas? Here’s the god’s honest truth: I don’t like the kids in mass quantity part, and am menze menze (I apologize to my Italian friends for bad spelling) on the learning part (although I would love to learn how to make my own California rolls…and pole dance). But I’m grateful to, and astounded by, the people who want to do it.

Two of my best friends are also teachers—one teaches four-year-olds at a preschool and the other teaches high school students who have various learning difficulties, two very different types of teaching positions. And while they have their bad days—someone eats too much play-doh and hurls in the classroom, or someone can’t figure out how to write an essay in under three days flat and the SAT’s are around the corner—both are committed, dedicated, and professional above all. I admire and respect them and even if there were not another person on the planet and they needed a sub for the day would I say, “Hey, I’ll fill in for you! Sounds like fun!” I’d rather have a colonoscopy than get in front of a class of kids. Because you know what? I’d be really, really bad at it.

I was born to make up stories about women who can’t keep their noses out of police investigations, not to spend the days with a bunch of kids who can’t keep their noses out of their own armpits.

I wonder, sometimes, why Alison Bergeron—my protagonist and aforementioned nosy sleuth—is a teacher. Is it an homage to the profession? Or, does it just allow me to fill her days with interesting and slightly off-beat characters? Because if you’ve been on a college campus, in a middle school, or even around a bunch of elementary-school children, you know that the halls of academia are filled with characters. But whatever it is, she’s a teacher, she’s smart as hell, and she also has the summers off, which allows her extra time to play Nancy Drew.

So, here’s to our teachers who are specialized, trained, passionate, committed, and teaching our kids. Respect what they do. Thank them occasionally. And never, never say, on a hot summer day, “Hey—that’s some schedule you’ve got. I should teach!”

Not unless you want to be hit in the face with a flying eraser.

Maggie Barbieri

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