Summer has arrived, and for many this means just one thing: school is out! This also means that, at least theoretically, teachers can enjoy some much-deserved r and r, theoretically being the operative word here. For all of us who live the academic life and sometimes feel like no one really gets it, here are fifteen things only teachers can truly understand.
1. We appreciate what it feels like to work around the clock
Teaching isn’t a job. It’s a calling. While we live in a world in which technology has increasingly blurred the boundaries between the personal and the professional, educators have always lived like this. I say this both as the child of teachers and a teacher myself.
We spend hours a day in the classroom, but when the bell rings, the work doesn’t end. We have papers to grade, lessons to plan, conference calls to make, and, if you teach college, constant emails to answer. I’ve made a habit of establishing a cutoff policy and expressly tell my students that I don’t typically reply to emails after a certain hour. It’s never stopped me doing so anyway though, because I’d much rather a student contact me with a question than complete the assignment incorrectly. I know. I’m a pedagogical paragon of virtue. You can just canonize me now. Thanks.
2. We tend to boss people around
Some of us are just naturally bossy and have probably entered the teaching profession in part because the classroom provides a useful outlet for that. Others develop this skill over time. You can’t deliver instructions to an entire class of screaming hellions or organize 25 munchkins into a straight line without a commanding authority. We might like to draw up schedules for road trips or tell everyone what time to be at dinner, but admit it. Nobody would ever accomplish anything without someone else giving them marching orders.
3. We have a compulsive need to take control
Since we spend so much time at the front of a room commanding attention (or, you know, pretending our students are listening to us), we have a really hard time stepping back and letting someone else take the reins, because everyone else, no matter how hard they try, is just too incompetent. Need someone to organize a church fundraiser? Get a teacher to assign everyone a job. Looking for someone to plan a friend’s surprise party? Get the teacher in the group to do it. If I’m being honest, we hate this, but if we don’t do it, no one else will, and we’ll always assign everyone something to do and make sure that they do it, or else.
4. We like to discipline other people’s children
You can take a teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of a teacher. In addition to imparting wisdom, we get paid to baby-sit other people’s brats. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen kids running around the mall like hoodlums or cutting people in line at a theme park and thought: no control. Since we’ve developed a reflexive habit of repeating phrases like “no running” or “sit down, please,” we have to bite our tongues in public. Not my kid, not my problem. Moving on.
5. We constantly “shush” people
In any social or public situation that requires people to focus their attention on something or someone, count on a teacher to shut everyone up. Movie theaters, churches, public speaking events, you name it. Nothing drives me up a tree more than people talking when someone else has something important to say, particularly when they have safety information to communicate. Flight attendants don’t review safety instructions on an aircraft because they like to hear themselves talk. Just because you’re a jet-setter that doesn’t mean the person sitting next to you is. If you’ve heard it all before, please sit down, buckle your seatbelt, look out the window and daydream about what in-flight cocktail you’re going to order. Thank you.
6. We can reflexively slip into “lecture mode”
Lecture mode refers to the spontaneous mini-lectures we launch into whenever someone asks us a simple question. A friend recently called me while writing a personal statement for a grad school application to ask me about the correct use of a semicolon. Fifteen minutes later, she decided to set the draft aside and pour herself a scotch. I’m still sorry about that.
As teachers, we’ve grown accustom to giving people detailed, sometimes lengthy, occasionally boring answers to questions. My parents have taken to pausing the TV whenever they watch BBC drama with me because when they have a question about anything pertaining to the period, they’re going to miss half the movie if they don’t pause it. I try. I really do, but I’m nothing if not enthusiastic about disseminating knowledge.
7. We don’t party on school nights
Sometimes we don’t even party on Friday nights. You will occasionally find me in my pajamas on a Friday night with a bottle of wine, my dog, and the TV remote. When we have to be up at 4 or 5:00AM and spend most of our day talking at people, quiet is more often than not the order of the evening. As one article comically points out, “we’re usually in bed by 8:00PM, so Netflix and Chipotle are a better bet than anything that requires pants.”
8. We drink too much coffee
Coffee is our life blood. If anyone ever invents a caffeine injection, teachers will make it an instant hit. Since our work follows us home, coffee is the only thing that stands between us and the fog that obscures our brains as a result of late nights and early mornings. (Well, there’s also wine, but we’re not talking about that here). We have coffee in the morning, coffee during planning hour, and probably a coffee mug on the desk that’s ostensibly for holding pencils but is really there in case we need an extra cup.
9. We are masters over our bladders
This skill is something of a teacher superpower. Finding the time to take a bathroom break can be challenging with a room full of minors that can’t be left unsupervised. This is essentially why teachers will look at you funny if you’re a doctor and you tell a teacher to “drink more water”. You try it when you’re lucky to squeeze in time for a bathroom break.
10. We appreciate the value of comedy
I’ll never forget something a professor of mine once said in the first upper-division literature course I ever took in college—the thing that made me certain I wanted to go into teaching: “Teaching is a performing art.” He was right. Keeping your students engaged is all about the delivery, and as teachers we can appreciate the value of a good joke, or even a bad one. If our students are laughing at us instead of with us, at least they’re paying attention in some form.
Humor also works as a convenient memory trick or motivator. I’ve been known to tell my students that for every day a paper is late, I capture and hold a bunny rabbit hostage. I like to believe this works, though maybe the humor here has nothing to do with the joke and everything to do with my delusions about student responsibility.
11. We have an obsession with inspirational quotations
Like comedy, inspirational quotations are tiny morsels of easy-to-remember wisdom. We’ve all probably heard some form of the Napoleon Hill quotation, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” As teachers, we know that the key to success is the difference between potential and kinetic energy. A student can be the sharpest proverbial pencil in the box and get the lowest marks in the class if he doesn’t feel motivated, so we like to use bulletin boards and posters plastered with these reminders in quote form so that students can glance up at the walls as they work and reflect on how important it is to dedicate themselves to their work if they want to see tangible results.
12. We love “teacher movies”
At least, we love the one’s that get it right. “Mr. Holland’s Opus” is my personal favorite because it depicts, with moving authenticity, what it means to dedicate your life to sharing your passion with others and showing them how knowledge can enrich their minds and their lives. Speaking as someone who works in the Humanities, any form of storytelling that emphasizes the importance of art, literature, and music in the classroom gets two thumbs up from me. Sometimes teaching is a thankless job, and we appreciate it whenever anyone wants to tell our stories in a memorable and relatable way that champions the work we do.
13. We’ve forgotten how to sleep in
Our bodies are always on school time, and there’s absolutely no point trying to reset them. I’ve reached a point in my life at which I feel like a sloth if I sleep past 7:30 on a Saturday. The payoff, of course, is that theoretically we get more accomplished, and considering that weekends will usually consist of grading papers between binges of Downton Abbey, getting an early start on Saturday is probably wise.
14. We love to ask people what they did on their summer vacations
Partially because it’s a convenient first-day-of-school icebreaker and partially because teaching is the only profession in which you go off the grid for two months and don’t see most of your colleagues, this is our go-to conversation starter. Summer might fly by while you’re having fun, but a lot can happen in two months, and sharing stories about our fun in the sun helps us to reconnect with one another on common ground.
15. We really hate hearing “Your job is awesome. You get summers off.”
I’d almost rather hear “the dog ate my homework.” The problem with this misconception is that not only do we make up for it during the weekends and late nights we spend grading papers, prepping lessons, and attending after-hours school functions, we also continue to work during the summer. There are course textbooks to order and sort through, curriculum standards to update, student schedules and seating charts to draw up, and, if you teach at the university level, your own research and writing to do. Quite a lot of us love the teaching profession, but it requires far more dedication than many people fully appreciate. If we were paid by the hour, no school would ever be able to afford us.
Featured photo credit: School Children via pixabay.com