Thomm Quackenbush, author

03.25.05 10:34 p.m.

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.  

-Mark Twain

 



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

Pedagogy of the Impressed

Within the first five minutes of my second student teaching placement at my old middle school, I experienced a deeper level of interaction with my supervising teacher than I did in the entirety of my prior placement. My new teacher, just to give you a sense of her character, was more than willing to send her child to the Randolph School (the school that treats "real world" and "hands on" as divine mandate) until she realized that he was made functional illiterate and unable to deal "hands on" with the "real world." But the point is that she was willing to try. She is sweet and sarcastic and never has to raise her voice to her occasionally unruly class of moppets.

A good intentioned but unassuming guidance counselor from the high school came in on my first day, failing to completely answer the most ridiculously extreme question the classes could derive, leaving me to feel out who is likely to give me trouble when I stand before the room.
Xen  
I am not realistic

A pronounced difference between these students and my prior charges is the utter lack of reclining heads. They may be occasionally witless and certainly transcend the bounds of obnoxiousness, but they genuinely are engaged in the classroom. I know this seems basic, as though I am blabbering on about the tastiness of water, but you must understand that I spent seven weeks dealing with alternately swearing and sleeping students (once both in the same pupil). At best, I would have three students who sincerely cared about being there. A sea of raised hands is a novelty.

Understandably, after spending seven weeks in academic perdition, having my few whittled down expectations met and surpassed has left me liking my new placement better. It is possible and in fact likely that I just don't know better, but a convivial teacher and involved students are sufficient to put me off drastic measures for another day.

The school is nearly the same. Even the scent of stale carbohydrates and anonymous meats lingers familiarly through the hallways like the student who graduated four years ago and still walks the halls after final bell. I choose to now bring my lunch, because I have a choice. It is an older place with signs of repair, but is much preferable to the newness at the expense of comfort found at the high school.

I teach one lesson a day. I just happen to teach it five times in five different ways to accommodate the "excel" students, who are actually academically slower, and the eighth period geniuses who should be annoying some poor tenth grade teachers with their frenetic attempts at attention getting one-upmanship.

My first unit, which I will stretch until it is my last day with any luck, is on The Outsiders, a unsubtlely homoerotic story about gang members that look like the Fonz. It should be a blast.

Or Not

I went to Mount Saint Mary because I was apparently having problems with my lesson plans. I beg to differ, as I taught them and did it well, but the Mount had changed their format suddenly. Unfortunately, I was not given the option of choosing to whom I would speak about my plan.

"How are you doing?" asked the late middle aged woman before me. I have never much had affection for her and she once caused me to confess to a more favored teacher that my having joined this major was a huge mistake. She is standoffish and conservative, seeming to implement immediate prejudices against people. You can guess who she reacted to a boy with hair down his back and the occasional penchant for shirts that shine or are fuzzy.

"Good?" I guessed, as I expected that this was just a conversational remark.

"That's not what I hear," she said pointedly.

This rather set the tone of matters, where everything I said was quickly twisted to make me out to be a lazy idiot. I tried to compliment my supervisor and she immediately took this as proof of my bad attitude and informed me that I would fail if I didn't do what she said. Bear in mind, she said very little about my actual lesson plans (she got perhaps three pages into a fifty page document) and just acted affronted that I did not eidetically recall the nuances of the class I had taken with her a year ago. She is not the right teacher for me and, in fact, reminds me an uncomfortable amount of my old supervising teacher.

I don't quite understand teachers who are so standoffish when teaching the art of teaching is their only job. Not being a complete bint is right in the beginning of the manual.

I grinned and bore her insults, her mischaracterizations of me based upon a boy who annoyed her in the seventies. I see her bias, even if she doesn't, and try to rise above it. I am just grateful that she has no part in my grade anymore. Clearly she did not teach very well if she now finds me so lacking.

She is one of those people who gave up on me on sight and never let me forget it. She will begrudgingly admit that I am highly literate and literary, but only as an introduction to a follow up insult about how I cannot make a living with these gifts (for the many skills and crafts I have are owing to sheer dumb luck and not a quarter century of study and shaping). I have met only a few of these people in my life and most of them have been education professors, leading me to believe the profession attracts a large number of people who could be better served and could better serve the world in careers that kept them far, far away from any sort of faint diversity. If a pony tail and a couple of rings are reasons behind lasting prejudices, you have unfortunately survived into the wrong century. Looking at the rest of my generation, I am downright conservative. I lack tattoos and only have a single piercing in my ear. I wear sweaters and, at the moment, corduroy pants (though I prefer jeans but have been told that they are inappropriate for the classroom). Would this woman try to exorcise a person with pink hair or a pleather skirt? Are these somehow people with less valid skills? I suppose I can take solace in her eventual death and the degree of obscene care she takes in coloring her hair and applying spackled make-up to hide the widening wrinkles. I don't like in a world where appearances are the most important factor in determining the content of one's character. I wonder if she marks down minorities for the sheer audacity of having darker skin than her. Highly professional behavior. At least my skin is as lily white as hers, though she seems like the sort of person who would brag about Mayflower lineage.
Xen  
But I am bitchy

She seemed utterly shocked when I suggested that there were private schools interested in me. I could have told her that I held the philosopher stone in my pocket and was turning my nickels into doubloons as we so cordially chatted and her eyes could not have grown wider behind her glasses. Once her shock that I was employable left her, she went to work telling me that I was no good, that private schools were no good, that I would be poor and was wasting my time. I pointed out that I didn't care much about money or I wouldn't have tried for this degree program. I certainly wouldn't have ever set foot near this lame college were money my intent. Mount Saint Mary's College is shit and I truly hope they know it.

I am just so utterly fucking exhausted with the pessimism and bureaucratic orgiastic demeanor of this whole profession. I do not want to be a teacher if this is what it means. I constantly regret doing this and I am right to regret it. It may be a safe profession, but it is not something at which I want to waste my life. I want a job that ends when I go home. Teaching lingers with you. Libraries don't. Most other jobs don't and they pay a fuck of a lot better. There is very little advancement and very high burnout. It is shit and I deserve better with my life. I can do so much more than this. I fucking hate the people that have kept me down and hate nearly all of the hours of my life I have wasted in education classes. I am not the sort of person you want teaching your children. I'll write books for them. I'll check books out to them. But I am not a teacher and I have no interest in changing that. I want to live a life. This is not living.

Soon in Xenology: I can climb any mountain, but not in a storm trooper helmet.

last watched: Scrubs
reading: Franny and Zooey
listening: Hotel California
wanting: more positive experiences with things I have to do.
moment of zen: Hands.
someday I must: Be slightly less whiny when confronted with the minions of bureaucracy.

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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