Monday is the dreaded first day of the school year, and while this means parents everywhere are rejoicing, we teachers are experiencing moments of exhilaration and despair. And when I say despair, I picture the Albino from The Princess Bride hissing “You’re in the Pit of Despair! Don’t even think”…. (hack hack hack resume normal voice) “Don’t even think about trying to escape.” Some of my friends who teach in the public schools have already been in the Pit of Despair for (gasp!) three weeks, so I’ve been lucky to have few more weeks of summer. For those of you not in the know, I teach Spanish on the College level, and I love it. But there are times when teaching is difficult to love, and the craziness of back-to-school can be one of those times.
A few weeks ago one of my favorite authors, Christina Dodd, posted two Staples back-to-school commercials on Twitter, one featuring a father dancing around the store to "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," and the other Alice Cooper. To be honest, I’d love to see a commercial just for teachers set to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” Back-to-school usually means lots of boring meetings in which little is accomplished at great length. As I write this, Sexy History Professor (aka the DH) is attending just such a meeting, and I had the dubious pleasure of attending one last Saturday. Yes, you read that correctly. The meeting was on Saturday. At 8 a.m. At a school 40 minutes from my house. Ugh. I have no problem with meetings as long as they’re useful and well-organized, but when I show up on a Saturday at 8 a.m., it would be really great if there was an actual agenda, as opposed to having the person running the meeting ask, “Do you have any questions?” Because let’s face it - I could have asked questions over email at a more reasonable hour. So my first question would have to be, “Why am I here?” And frankly friends, there just isn’t a good answer to that.
But the worst part of back to school is also the best: the students. Every teacher knows exactly what I mean. We’ve all had those stinkers who are difficult to deal with (for Public School teachers it’s not just the students; it’s also the parents). For example, there was the student who simply could not understand why I wouldn’t accept a composition written in English, even though it was a Spanish class. Guess I’m just crazy like that! Another favorite is the student who emails you after missing class and asks if s/he missed anything important. Um, my class? Because if it weren’t important, we wouldn’t have had class that day anyway, right? But my absolute favorite, get-on-my-last-nerve type of student is the one who sits around doing nothing while everyone else is working. When you ask the student why s/he isn’t doing anything, s/he’ll answer, “I don’t know what we’re doing.”
Now, I started taking Spanish my freshman year in College, because I’d taken Latin in high school, and my college didn’t offer Latin. I’d never had a day of Spanish in my life, so I understand being confused, feeling completely lost, or, worse, having a panic attack when the professor calls on you in something that resembles Spanish but doesn’t sound like any words you know. I’ve been there. What I don’t understand is why you’d just sit there if everyone around you is working. If you don’t understand something, you have lots of options for clarification: 1) look up words you don’t understand in the dictionary; 2) ask for help from a classmate, many of whom have studied a little Spanish in high school; or, 3) ask the professor. I list asking the professor last, because it’s always better if a student tries figuring something out on his/her own first since it’ll help you remember it later. Seriously, this is my biggest pet peeve and a sure-fire way to tick me off in class.
But as I mentioned earlier, the worst part of teaching is also the best – the students. This is why I said back-to-school is so exhilarating, why the sight of school supplies in the stores makes me happy. The students make it all worthwhile. Nothing’s better than coming back to school and seeing the enthusiastic faces of returning students light up when they see you. I especially love it when students return from studying abroad and show you their pictures of amazing places they’ve visited, like Machu Picchu, Easter Island or the Alhambra. They can’t wait to show off in class all the new things they’ve learned, and that excitement infects the other students. I also love the students who only know a few words in Spanish (usually infinitives) and yet still make jokes about a really terrible reading about bullfighting the entire semester. Or the brother and sister in class who re-enact videos we’ve seen in class in front of their family. And I even like it when I get boo’ed in class for telling what I freely admit are really painful puns.
So back-to-school, while representing the end of summer, is also a really great time for teachers. We get to reconnect with our colleagues and learn about all the fascinating research they’re doing, while we also catch up with the best part of teaching – the students.