Teachers are frightening human beings. When I think about the numerous roles they actively play—counsellor, mediator, coach, adviser, nurse, guard, designer, physical search engine, experimental subjects, prank victims—on top of their regular duties as an educator, I start to doubt whether they’re even human. Because what sort of person willingly decides to work so hard, and for so little recognition? What sane individual would dare take up the heavy mantle of this profession at a time when there is so much animosity toward teachers?
Teachers are unsung heroes, and deserve all the praise they can get. I’ve grown to admire those who’ve moulded me over the years, who’ve inspired me to join their ranks and lead a classroom of my own. There was just one tiny snag on my way to becoming a superhuman educator:
I’m lazier than a sloth on Ambien.
I love nothing more than waking up past noon and wasting daylight by staying in bed, scrolling mindlessly through Facebook or playing Tetris (and I’m still proper dreadful at it). I probably have the worst personality type for a highly stressful job, and my brilliant nous chose one of the most stressful of them all! Why?
Well, like I said, I’ve grown to admire teachers. I initially viewed them as either abusive autocrats or torpid tyrants, which seemed like the perfect gig for me. I get to boss kids around and take summers off? Golden! After all, how hard was it to shuffle worksheets along and ramble for an hour? Grading didn’t seem overly complex either: just randomly pick two numbers and stick them on top of the page. (How else could I account for getting 85s on essays I spent days bleeding over, and 98s on drivel I pulled from my arse during lunch period?)
Of course, my view of teachers and teaching has become more positive and more nuanced over the years. I graduated high school with fond memories and great respect for those wise wackadoodles. I also had learnt enough from them that I was probably better off reading economics in uni and pursuing finance—far better returns for the time investment.
But as before, my genius brain somehow thought teaching would still be the most rational career path for me, so with a diploma and a decent Praxis score, I entered the profession with high hopes of being the next Hillary Swank and creating a new generation of Freedom Writers, without the divorce and insomniac nights, natch.
Reality and Karma must have had a jolly good laugh during my first year teaching, which was at a charter school serving some of the highest needs students in East Orange. Here was my lazy bum now waking up at 0530 each weekday, regularly spending twelve to fourteen hours in a classroom, drafting curriculum maps, expanding academic units, writing scripted lesson plans, creating supplementary materials, presenting workshops, parsing assessment data, tracking student growth profiles, tutoring weekend test-prep…oh, and actually teaching. I was Hillary Swank without the Hollywood treatment. No divorce, at least.
My time at that charter school was one of the toughest and most rewarding periods of my life. Unfortunately, like most things that try to go from 0 to 100 instantly, parts break down, and my body literally could not take that workload. A type B person could only feign being type A for so long, and I think my body gave me the dreaded ‘C’ as a hint to slow down.
I couldn’t fulfil my role that way I needed to in that charter school, and I wondered if I could fulfil the role at any school. I had the fear that if I kept teaching, my body would just fall apart and I’d die alone, overworked, and thrown in a ditch somewhere because my insurance was absolutely rubbish. I suppose the fear was slightly misguided, because I should have been far more afraid of chemo. Let’s stop your body destroying itself and pump far more destructive chemicals instead! Genius, all around.
On the upside, after six chemo cycles, Karma decided she had enough of a laugh at my expense and moved on to some other miserable bloke. In remission, I started teaching at a district public school, where the work demands weren’t necessarily easier, but a bit more manageable on my end. If my first teaching job forced my naturally idle self to become a tireless superhuman, my current situation necessitated that I become a ‘lazy’ teacher, to work smarter, not harder.
At this stage, I’ve just finished my fifth year of teaching, a sliver of an age compared to the decades-long service countless others have given. I profess to be no sage (and no, cancer did not give me any profound perspective on life other than knowing she has no chill), but I have picked up a few nuggets here and there. And I’d like to share those nuggets with you, so that you can also be a little lazier, enjoy life outside of the classroom, sleep in once in a while, and know that not every teacher has to be superhuman to make a difference. Teaching as a regular, ordinary person—flaws, warts, and all—is just as meaningful.