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Education Humor
With Regina Barreca

It's Just Not That Simple


I find that the people most visibly drawn to extolling the joys and the privilege of teaching are high-powered attorneys, successful venture capitalists, and exceedingly youthful movie stars of strikingly limited intelligence.

Meaning they have not come near an actual school in quite a while.

Real teachers don't talk that way. We live under a canopy of worry, anxious about doing our best work even on the worst day. On a regular basis, we do not offer lavish choruses of praise for ourselves and our colleagues. It's only those who have no idea what we do who seem to think teaching is 1. amateurish ("Why, if I weren't in my profession, I'd become a teacher instantly"); 2. easy ("Home by the middle of the afternoon! You have scads of time for yourself"); 3. respected ("All the world looks up to educators; you are given authority automatically"). Instead we're the ones in the corner muttering to each other about the lack of funding, the lack of supplies, and the lack of accountability-- not to mention the scarcity of good parking spaces.

It's only folks outside our universe who can't help but launch into the following wistful monologue: "It must be wonderful to be in the business of shaping lives and working with all those different types of young people. What fun it must be to go to work everyday! I bet you can hardly wait!" The ones who add, with a playful grin, "Plus you have the summers off!" are the ones we need particularly to avoid. After all, in order to keep at a minimum our rates of arrest for battery and to set good example for our students, we are not supposed to whack others. And the temptation to do is difficult to override because the individuals making these comments are ones work no more than three days in a row without taking a break at Canyon Ranch to de-stress. The ones talking about getting a few weeks off in the summer as if it was the same thing as winning Powerball are the very same folks who become unstrung if their personal assistant puts too much soymilk in the latte.

Let's put it this way: the raconteur who relates sentimental, dreamy tales of school days touched by the glimmering, glistening fairy-dust of learning is not a teacher. Anybody who describes scenes where prodigal, doe-eyed, curly-haired, Campbell-soup kids romp through open fields until a teacher rings a brass bell to welcome them all back to their lessons doesn't know anything about contemporary education. Or economic, psychological, political, or social reality, for that matter. Sure, teachers today continue to need something made of brass. But it definitely isn't a bell.

The vision of youth as an perfectly delightful time is paraded forth only by those who don't, on a daily basis, cope with the broken wrist from a fall off the swings, a broken heart from the failure of a big test, or the broken trust from a parent who doesn't show up when he or she promised. Being a student is almost as hard as being a teacher.

But if the precious believers comprising the first group of enthusiasts is tough to deal with, their rivals and counterparts are far worse. The group in the other corner is comprised of bitter, brittle, self-righteous types who fling themselves into harangues concerning everything that's wrong with our educational system. The thought that change for the better is possible is unknown to them; they want to return to the mythical days of reading, writing, and arithmetic, when teachers ruled with rulers and iron maidens awaited those who so much made eye-contact in class. This gang knows the least -- and shouts the most -- about what it is that schools do (or, more often, don't do). Listen to them for three minutes and you become astonished at their ignorance. These are the ones who believe that students can be divided into the barbarians and the virgins, who believe that girls grow into concubines unless you keep them locked up until they are 21 and that boys will drop down on all fours at any moment if someone is not whipping them into the right position. They are not our allies.

When you work inside education, you know better than to align yourself with either camp. Personally, I find myself arguing against whatever is being shoved at me as a theory by somebody who couldn't survive for five hours in the real world of a classroom. There is nothing simple about education. What we see can be shocking, fabulous, aggravating, resplendent, unfair -- as well as unbelievably inspiring, hideous, or dull -- but the world in which we work is never simple. That's what those outside our profession never really understand. And for most of us, that's the best part of all.