"You're writing a column for Education World?" joked my husband, Michael. "Is that like an amusement park? Are there rides?"
Which is why, despite the fact that he is also an English professor, I rarely talk to my husband about work.
Of course, I then couldn't get the image of "Education World!" as a possible theme park out of my mind. What would it look like?
Here's what I see: Permanent members of staff working at "EW! The Theme Park" would be dressed as follows -- corduroy, linen, and poly-cotton blends would prevail for both sexes. All outfits will have lots of pockets. Nametags will say, "Hi, my name is ---" and Ms./Mrs./Mr./Dr. will precede last names only; no first names will be listed. (For many young children, knowing your teacher's first name is still tantamount to seeing them in their underpants, and "Education World! The Theme Park" is committed to ensuring that children remain untraumatized.)
Men at "EW!" would be wearing khaki pants, loose-fitting jackets, and comfortable shoes. Depending on what area they worked in, they might or might not have a paisley tie, white shirt, or athletic protector. Some would have beards; most will have glasses. The ones who think of themselves as hip would have an earring.
Women would have short, easy-to-maintain hairstyles, comfortable shoes (although not as comfortable as the shoes worn by the men) and skirts would be worn slightly above or slightly below the knee. Neutral colors would predominate, accessorized with quirky, interesting jewelry.
One of the first things a visitor will encounter is a "Guess Your Age/Weight/Salary" booth, where contestants will be challenged to place their colleagues in the appropriate range for each category. For example, your colleague, Ms. Thompson, will be held up for scrutiny. Imagine your surprise when you discover that she is 62 instead of 41, that she weighs 136 pounds as opposed to the 180 you imagined (she lives inside those dresses by Flax, Laura Ashley, and Eddie Bauer like one of those Russian nesting dolls), and makes almost twice your salary despite her string of sick days, use of personal time, and the fact that she has been using the same class notes since she was an undergraduate at Vassar.
At the shooting gallery, the heads of Principal Dolen, Superintendent Franklin, and Board of Education President Shaw would appear within range, but they would move interchangeably for political reasons and therefore be hard to target. Although you might believe that you have Principal Dolen in the cross hairs, you'll find that he miraculously disappears behind Mr. Shaw and yet it is Superintendent Franklin's voice you hear. If you manage to untangle and target these three, you can choose for your prize one of the following: 1) immediate approval of your proposed curriculum changes; 2) a computer that actually works; 3) time off for good behavior.
The merry-go-round will be reserved for those who choose to work on committees.
There will be a haunted house where the worst students from your past appear, accompanied by a lawyer asking you to reconsider their final grade.
On the professional roller coaster, you will be asked to fill out so much paperwork it will make your head swim, only to discover that all that paperwork flies away as you head downhill and must be filled out once again in a slightly different manner once you begin your next ascent. Sometimes you discover that the only thing that will keep you safe is the bar. (Some rides will have a two-drink minimum.)
Stuffed toys will be awarded to those administrators who, by walking over hot coals, prove that they are in full possession of their faculties.
All food will be self-serve and will include the usual: doughnuts so old their fillings taste like shampoo, Sanka, packets of Coffeemate, Equal, Splenda, and NutraSweet stolen from rest stops, and napkins purloined from a variety of fast food franchises. Tea is available, but you have to bring your own bag. Everything must be consumed inside the faculty lounge, where one microwave is available for 130 members of faculty and staff. Expect lines.
Then the really weird stuff awaits the brave "EW!" visitor. Enter the Hall of Marvels! Hear the Tone-Deaf Music Teacher! See the Color-Blind Art Teacher! Be Reprimanded by the Amoral Vice-Principal! See the Phys-Ed Teacher who Smokes! Witness the Hung-Over Health Education Teacher! Listen to the History Teacher So Old He is Prehensile! Swoon while standing next to The Member of Faculty Who Doesn't Wash! Gaze in Wonder as the Unsuspecting Student Teacher is Hit On by every Myopic Male Faculty Member, Single and Married Alike!
See the Senior Class President who still moves his lips when he reads! See the beastly nose-picking child! See the girl who dropped a meatball down her white shirt at lunch and so looks like she's been shot through with an arrow! See the kid who still thinks the erupting volcano is a groundbreaking science project! Hear the giggle of the student who thinks deforestation is a dirty word! Hear the oozing obsequiousness of the kid who thinks kissing up to you works better than completing the assignment!
Teachers and their partners are welcome at my theme park, although the partners may not understand (see the reference to my husband, above).
And remember: No readmission once you exit, unless you're willing to do all that paperwork.