Thomm Quackenbush, author

03.11.05 11:10 p.m.

Recognize that you have the courage within you to fulfill the purpose of your birth. Summon forth the power of your inner courage and live the life of your dreams.  

-Gurumayi Chidvilasananda


Previously in Xenology: Xen? Not a teacher at heart.

Teaching Lap Dancing

I have made it out of my first placement at the high school. It was not easy, though probably necessary. Or rather, if I was genuinely interested in teaching, it would have been.

Surprisingly, I made it out of the experience without a bad letter of recommendation from my teacher. Similarly, I never put down in submitted writing quite how inadequate I found her supervision. It behooves neither of us to be honest. She because what she did was technically illegal or at least unethical and I because riling her would be a good way to fail this experience. So, I am completed with that aspect, though she tried to give me low marks where she could. She can't actually know how my daily teaching was, as that is hard to observe from anywhere but the classroom. She doesn't much understand how I grade, as she only thought to ask for my grades long after the actual work was returned. She told me that she felt I didn't communicate enough with her, but she gave me very little reason or chance to.

No matter all of this, I am done and the sound of her voice is draining from my ears.

I celebrated my freedom by going to Angela's house, where Melissa and she split a bottle of rum and tried to explain the finer points of lap dancing to me. I took in what I could and realized that Melissa and Angela are two of the only girls that could be drunkenly explaining the art of gyration without seeming insidious. In my opinion and despite their giddy protests, they were too drunk to drive me back to my car, which was parked in a grocery store lot a few blocks away. Treading a straight path through the fallen March snow, I reflected that I do not do things the easiest way. I stuck my boots deep into the icy sludge, snow that was partially melted and refrozen a dozen times since being fluffy white, and look at the nearly clear pavement ten feet to my left but trod along because this is the path I am already on. Maybe it is stubbornness or stupidity - likely a mix of the two - but it doesn't seem so appealing to take the easy way out once I have set my course. Though, both academically and in the realm of snow walking, I started off on the path of least resistance.

I keep finding little on-line mementos of a time when I wanted to major in psychology and deal with the insane one person at a time. I can't understand where or when that changed, but I do know what stopped me from that path. Fear. Of statistics. Yes, math kept me from a potentially fulfilling life path. Do you know why I went to Mount Saint Mary? I was intimidated by the GREs and the Mount did not make me take them. I have limited my life to something that makes me quite unhappy because I was scared of math and a test, respectively. What sort of person does this make me? Who would I be if I had the sense in my head to face this sooner?
The Graduate  
I will vaporize anyone that tries to stop me

I am utterly without faith in my ability to teach. No, that isn't quite accurate. I am aware now that I can be placed in front of a class of willfully ignorant teenagers and, using only my vague comprehension of the content, can keep them from rioting for forty-six minutes. This is not difficult, though it requires a bit more yelling and threatening than I would like. I have received negative marks from my college supervisor because I dealt with disobedience with humor rather than threats. This is apparently wrong, though she can't know the students as I do and doesn't know that I am choosing my battles.

What I cannot seem to quite figure out is this obscure and malleable science of keeping my college and teachers happy. I write fifty pages of lesson plans which are then spat back at me as being only an outline. I align things to the national standards, but there seems to be an alternate nation of which I was not previously aware. I should like to point out that quite a few hundred million minds were well educated prior to this national standards push of late, particularly given how infuriatingly impossible it is to know what one must write.

I remind myself, and have to continue to do so to keep from utterly panicking, that not all schools are inner-city schools on the verge of a nervous breakdown. There are institutes of education where the goal of six and a half hours a day of instruction seems to be learning and not retaining juvenile delinquents until they can be turned over for further state incarceration. If the students were as deluded as I am that the purpose of school is supposed to be enlightening and not punitive, it would be a far better place to be.

As of now, as far as I can tell, I am failing my student teaching experience, in that am not passing. There are only two options in this matter; it is binary choice. All of my final projects were tossed back to me as incorrect, badly formatted, and not in binders. Binders are very important to the machina of bureaucracy. That which I have spent tens of thousands of dollars learning is now all revised without my knowledge or consent, so my only way to figure out what is correct is by doing something wrong.

During a seminar my supervising teacher did not believe existed, I spoke with my college supervisor. I like her and find her to be an amiable person, even if her adherence to the very cutting edge of Mount Saint Mary bureaucracy is going to give me an ulcer. As the director of student teaching (and I know all of these titles are a pain to keep straight for you as a reader) had already threatened me about how badly I was doing, I went into my quick meeting with my supervisor with a list of questions and comments and, when asked if I had managed to make much of a connection with my classroom teacher, started telling her anecdotes that made it quite clear that I had not. It isn't that I particularly or entirely fault my teacher for this, merely that she and I were a poor match. Putting me in this high school was a very poor match and was only done because it was a school in need of government assistance and with a very high teacher turnaround. I was put there because it was so unappealing to everyone else and was lied to about why I could not be placed in any other school. Placing me at the high school first seems to have been for the convenience of my classroom teacher, which is not why I am spending thousands of dollars. Such disreputable behavior does not instill me with hope about the college and the worth of my education.

I still do not want to be a teacher. If I could, I would tell my former self to invest in a degree in library science. A degree where I could get a job that did not involve soul-crushing bureaucrats and a steady stream of ungrateful children. What on Earth could have possessed me to think this would have been a good idea? Actually, I do have an answer, albeit a na´ve one in retrospect. As you should know, I fancy myself a writer and wanted the job of a writer. So I looked up what profession a lot of writers had when they weren't writing and came upon teaching. There was a sense to this. Lots of talking about books and analyzing things. I should have dug deeper and realized these are not teachers from socially and fiscally bankrupted districts with persistently high crime rates that are rife with cronyism. That should have been specifically excluded.

Should I manage to pass this experience - and I promise to bring unbridled wrath down upon ANYONE who stands in my way - I still will not want to teach. I have applied to jobs at private schools and as library media specialists, but my passion is not and will not be for teaching. I scorn any dumb beast who would parrot such an answer. Wanting to teach is one of those undiagnosed mental impairments currently absent from the DSM, but its time will come.

Think back. For most of you, thinking about the English teachers you have had, you will not scan through a directory of bright and vibrant people. Robin Williams did not teach at your high school. In my limited experience, you will flash upon slightly to very off-putting individuals. People who seemed many degrees apart from objective reality, people whom you cannot conceive functioning in any social sphere, people who many be hiding deviant sexual secrets. Yes, there is the occasional person with the patience of a Buddhist monk who managed to be both a teacher and a human being, but you won't see a lot of them. Most of those sorts of people do not wish to tarry long.

Soon in Xenology: Teaching

last watched: Beowulf
reading: A Brief History of Nearly Everything
listening: Tindersticks
wanting: To have tied myself to a prettier and quieter rock.
moment of zen: Snow walking.
someday I must: Find a job that nourishes my soul or, at the very least, leaves it alone outside the work week.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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