Friday, October 01, 2010

Tony Danza?

So, here I am minding my own business watching re-runs of Criminal Minds and what comes on but a 'reality show' with that BIG star Tony Danza apparently being a REAL teacher in Philly (I can only hope he got booed). I watched a little bit and then turned it off. Like all "reality" shows, it's as real as it gets. . . with a fucking videographer, sound, and light man following you around!

Actually, I've never watched any teacher shows. Room 222, Coach, ok maybe a little Mr. Cotter but that was totally for laughs. I think most of my fellow teachers are with me on this. No teacher show has ever come close. It's like turning a novel into a movie. Always comes up short. Every year, the job of teaching is another novel.

The good news about the Tony Danza opening episode was how scared he acted. Not was but acted and that's ok. The point is how completely terrifying teaching high school kids is. I don't mean at some 'tough' high school in Philly. I mean just teenagers in general. I taught at a very nice high school in a Chicago suburb and I'd have friends or associates who weren't in the teaching biz come visit sometimes and just walk through the halls with them at passing period and watch their faces. Oh my. That's a lot of teenage bizness right there in your face. You'd see the fear in their eyes. It's just too much for the un-initiated. I'd stop and tease the occasional kid. Acknowledge the occasional greeting from a student. Stop and stare at kids swapping spit. It's all good. But oh my. . . if you're not of this world. . . well, it's really something.

And if you're not shitting your pants before your first day of teaching EVERY fall then for fuck's sake go get your realtor license and get the hell out of Dodge. This IS scary. This IS important. A great teacher has to really believe that the works of Plato, Galileo, Sarte, Jefferson, Euclid, Hemingway, ARE important. The parents are depending on you. The KIDS are depending on you because in the face of having a long list of boring teachers under their belts they, like Cub fans, always hold out hope that this will be the year.

Do Not Disappoint

Now you may think that that means that you have to be Mr. friendly or Mr. fun or Mr. Funny. . . probably not. A good friend that I taught with was being eaten alive, EATEN ALIVE, by lower level kids who had pretty much given up on school. After a semester of that he went out and bought several suits of clothes and ties. He became the Hitler of science education. He had crazy rules and stuck to them: NO one goes to the bathroom . . . EVER! GO IN YOUR PANTS! No one can cross this line. . . EVER. Homework is due or I'm calling your parents...EVERY TIME. And so on. And you know what? They loved him. It was the direction they had been looking for for maybe 15 years.

15 years! Are you listening to this?

I quit teaching physics because I wanted to go sailing but that's only partly the reason. I quit teaching because I realized that I couldn't quite do it to the level I wanted to do it at any longer. For whatever reason. Burn out? I'll never know. Schools change. Administration changes. Kids change and it was all just too far for me to stretch. I quit for the good of education in general and for my own mental health. I never wanted to be THAT teacher and I felt I might be becoming him.

What is the commitment of nation's current teachers? That's probably too big a question with answers all over the place. The lure of teaching will always draw some and always draw some of the best but are those numbers diminishing? As long as we evaluate students, schools and, now, teachers via the standardized test I think we'll get fewer and fewer 'good teachers'. You know, a 'good teacher'. Hopefully, we've all had one or two and if you think back to them do you think they were driven by test scores or by their own love for Plato, Galileo, Sarte, Jefferson, Euclid, Hemingway, and the rest of the gang.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of your best posts ever, especially given the times. Have you seen, do you plan to see "Waiting for Superman"? Sure sounds interesting, especially for us former teachers.

Rich P