Ordinary People

20 January 2005

Home again, home again. I must admit that I really am a homebody kind of gal. And as much as I enjoy getting to the city now and then, it is always nice to be here at home.

There seems to be a fair bit of the public who doesn't quite believe that teachers are ordinary people. We are paragons of virtue in their eyes. And perhaps we are different in some ways, but it isn't like we are high priests or something. It is as if people never get over their kindergarten perception that teachers sleep (alone) in a desk drawer at school and devote every waking moment to thoughts of our job.

"High priest" is too lofty, but perhaps we are nuns, of a sort. People who have responded to some sort of calling to pass along the wisdom of (or lack thereof) our culture to the next generation.

I would agree, however, that teachers are semi-public figures. Regardless of the state of moral decay in the world, educators are supposed to be above all of that. We aren't supposed to drink, smoke, swear, have intimate relations, or bodily functions that aren't polite. But the reality is that we are human. I have rarely worked with anyone who didn't act professional in the classroom, regardless of whatever personal failings that they had.

Mind you, I can think of plenty of teachers who didn't act professonally with one another. But those are stories for other posts.

Anyway, when I was a younger teacher, I hated to be "caught" buying wine, toilet paper, tampons or anything else that might raise an eyebrow. And trust me, every time that I have encountered students (or parents) while running such errands, they are at first surprised (Why aren't you chained to your desk?) and then get kind of a "shame on you" look when they peek in my cart. These days, I just hold my head high. Maybe it's good to burst their bubble and demystify The Teacher.

The fact is, of course, that we teachers are just like anyone else. We are just as moral/ethical as the general public. I think that idea frightens people. They want us to be more spiritual than they are...to be those edu-nuns. But it is such a lonely job to do. I am alone with my kids. If I don't have a reason to see or talk to another adult, I don't or can't. And this additional barrier that society places...this expectation to be a paragon...is further isolating. I do enjoy my job. No doubt about that. But it is my wish to be seen as a person...and not simply viewed as a job title.

Earlier this year, I had a kid ask me why none of the teachers live close to the school. I said that I didn't want to insult her...we really like our students and honestly enjoy working with them, but that we also need some anonymity now and then. We need the capacity to have the same human frailties as everyone else. Having a home outside the school boundaries provides that for us. She seemed to understand.

My other favourite scenario is in seeing former students, who always ask, "Are you still teaching?" I resist the urge to be catty and tell them that after they graduated I just didn't have the will to go on anymore. But I am polite to them and shake my head after they've moved along.

Teaching is a challenging and amazing profession. Just remember that we are like everyone else you see around you. We wear leopard print lingerie now and then. We eat pizza and drink beer. We pass gas and have "bed head" first thing in the morning. We get eye boogers. We masturbate with a vengeance. If that shatters your memories of your kindergarten teacher, too bad. Chances are, she'd thank me for it.

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