Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tuesdays in September

For a teacher, Tuesdays in September are an absolute fucking nightmare.

I personally keep the local liquor store in my neighborhood in business because of this month, but in particular, this day. Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch, but the staff becomes very familiar near the end of the month since I've spent some time in there.

So, why are Tuesdays in September so terrifying?

It begins with August.

In August, teachers are still high from all their summer fun. We're well rested, tan (ok, tan-ish in my case), toned, and full of interesting stories of places we've been, people we've met, cheeses we've tasted.

Then the day finally arrives where we head back to our schools for our week of "Professional Development." It first involves sitting through three full days of ridiculously unnecessary and fairly patronizing large meetings, where the highlight--if you're lucky--is a free lunch. Now--it's not typically tasty, but it'll be free. It's sort of their way to keep you on campus and shrink that hour and a half lunch they scheduled into just one without you raising a fuss. So, that leaves two days and a weekend to get your entire year planned and ready to go before students arrive on Monday. Since I always seem to change what I teach every few years, this then becomes the time that I start to cry and realize just how much there is to get done before it's Go Time.

The last frenzy of preparation of materials and meeting with a cohort of people to plan all this shit takes place, the weekend ends, and it's time. Inevitably, the night before the first day of class I get diarrhea AND I get nauseous; naturally, we never have Pepto Bismol when I need it.
Despite my best efforts to suspend my Sunday night into eternity, Monday morning arrives and with it more nausea and now sleepiness, confronted only the way God intended---a coffee the size of Montana. The school is abuzz with last minute activities, students and teachers wearing their new attire, laughs, hugs, classes, bells, lecturing on procedures, teaching, a quick lunch, repeat with the afternoon classes and then... it's 4:15. There's a mass exodus. We all take a collective big breath and realize we have to keep doing this until May--oh, shit--June. Then we start planning tomorrow's lesson...

And so it goes.

But what makes September so horrific is because the honeymoon ends after August. Students who just a few weeks ago seemed shy but eager to learn, in a matter of a few classes morph into giant assholes. I went from "getting-to-know-you" group activities, to "shut-the-fuck-up-independent-work" in very short amount of time.

Eventually, all teachers know that it takes time to train your new kids on your procedures, your policies, and your quirks.

All English teachers can attest to this one: students turn in their two-page ESSAY and come in asking what their score was the following day.  Are you fucking kidding me?  There's 160 of you! 

Eventually the students stop acting up or out to gain attention because they've simply given up, or because the teacher brilliantly discovered ways of making that student feel important while he or she is doing the right thing.

Eventually we teachers discover how each student works best, which tricks to use when, how to establish and build a rapport without becoming too familiar.


But in September, each day is a total toss up. You don't know how it's going to go in each class. And each class has its own personality that, I've found, can completely change from August to May--shit, June. There's a lot of testosterone in my classes this year, so I'm watching more football. Some of the kids actually play, so that means I'm going to have to drag my unhappy ass out there on a Friday to watch a high school game. Gross.

But the end result is that you're fucking exhausted with creating engaging lessons, managing a class of 30 (or more) hormonal and highly emotional 16-year-olds, grading their work, meeting with your cohort, answering parent emails and phone calls and finally actually teaching.

I fancy myself to be quite the entertainer. This sounds quite egotistical.  But it's true that many of our kids are not intrinsically motivated, so yes, I put on my performance hat and try to make it entertaining, or at least funny. One of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotations is: "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you."

For some reason when you refer to Lady Macbeth as Lady McBitch, they stay awake just a little longer.

So, why Tuesdays?  Well, this has nothing in fact, to do with teaching. Here's my personal week day psychological analysis. Monday--one is mentally resigned to a Monday--weekend breaks, fresh starts, and it's just the beginning. Wednesday you feel a sense of accomplishment from your dedication on Monday and Tuesday, and are consequently inspired to finish strong. Thursday is heading straight for Friday.  One feels confident in the work being done and certainly can make it another day. Friday is just Friday. You do the job, students and teachers are all in pretty good moods. It's just a total win.

But Tuesday?

Tuesday is useless. Tuesday is a total downer. It's just a buckle down and get through it kind of day. Add that to a September, when you have so-long-until-a-real-break, and then you have all the breaking in to do with the kids...

The silver lining is that there's only four of them. My dear friend, who was actually my mentor teacher years ago would often swing by between classes and we'd commiserate. Around March (and there's some serious March Madness in the classroom) he'd say: "It could be worse. It could be a Tuesday in September." And we'd snicker, thinking back to those long forgot struggles. The pull and push of the classroom, the sheer exhaustion, the seemingly endlessness of the school year from that point in time. And, like every school year, the months slip by. The classroom become fun again, and we finally slide right into May.  Dammit--June!