“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
(To which Woody Allen added, “Those who can’t teach, teach gym.”)
I would like to add another line to this truism.
It goes, “Those who teach, can’t.”
“Can’t what?” you ask.
“Can’t do much of anything else by the time they crawl home and fall onto the couch,” is my reply, and my excuse for neglecting you all week.
As adorable as you are, dear readers, your mostly silent admiration don’t pay the bills, so I have been obliged to return to the place from whence I fled, last June, and fill in for a few days a week, whenever one of my former colleagues takes what we used to refer to as ‘a mental health day’. Sometimes they are even physically ill, but often, it’s just the normal wear and tear that gets to a teacher and a day off is just what one needs to recharge the old battery. The run-up to March Break seems especially busy, this year, what with the nice weather we’re having in Toronto, this winter.
That’s where I come in. I get to play, say, Spanish teacher, even though my knowledge of the language is somewhat limited to the phrases uttered by Dora, who I didn’t even know existed till this year and who has now become a well-loved member of our family. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have yet to be blessed with grandchildren). This week, I ‘taught’ Drama, French, and Math (can you imagine?....the teacher left little numbers and symbols on all the boards around the room and told me to tell the kids to get busy which they did. I told them if they needed any help, they had to get it from each other. The answers were in a big book on his desk and they hardly ever came up to peek!)
The benefits of returning to my old school are numerous. Familiarity with the routines and rules eliminate the possibility of being taken advantage of by some of the students who are known to try anything to drive supply teachers crazy. It doesn’t hurt that I emanate a certain confidence based on years of experience dealing with teenagers, who, I can attest, are a special kind of human being, distinct from whatever they will become, as adults, thank God. It’s nice to see old students and colleagues and chat about nothing much, over lunch in the former staff room, which has been taken over by five enormous photocopiers, risographs, and recycling bins. (The staff cafeteria is now a classroom, ever since a student drove his father’s Porsche through the wall of an English classroom, which had the misfortune to overlook the student parking lot. It was a ‘hit and run’ although they did finally catch the miscreant and force his insurance to pay for the damage. It will probably take as long as it did to build the ‘Great Wall of China’ to fix this thing, going by what the progress has been, so far, although it won’t be visible from space. Meanwhile, no more staff café.)
The interesting thing, to me, anyways, is that even though I am spared the responsibility of lesson planning, marking, meetings, and all the minutia that overwhelm a teacher in the course of an average day, I am still exhausted by the time I get home. The furthest thing from my mind is to drum up the energy to search it for ideas and put together sentences and type them out on my laptop. It’s all I can do to crawl onto the couch, flip on the remote and stare at “Your Child Ate What?” for an hour or so.
The thing about teaching is that it’s like you are an actor on stage, putting on a performance. Only the show isn’t two hours long. It’s all day. Even in the halls, when you are looking for the next classroom, you’re ‘on’. You have to be or they will eat you alive. You get used to this, it becomes part of your daily rhythm. But it really does suck the life out of you, even if, as I am learning, you have a pretty easy time of it (and many don’t). At my old school, (knock wood, pooh-pooh and all that magic curse-deflecting stuff) the kids are fairly civilized, academic and don’t want to kill each other. Lateness is the biggest problem most of the time.
And yet, I am still wiped.