Monday, March 9

1. The Lives of Real Teachers

By special permission from Richard Lederer (author and broadcaster)
Excerpts from his forthcoming book A Treasury for Teachers, which Marion Street Press will publish in the summer of 2011.
A request from Richard:  "Richard Lederer is working on A Treasury for Teachers (Marion Street Press (fall 2011) and needs stories about teachers. If you have any, please wing them to Rich at richard."

Here‚s a true story: Beth, a high school English teacher in Maine, lived with her friend Sam, an intelligent golden retriever. One day, Beth‚s mother was riding in the back seat of the car with Sam, who insisted on leaning on Mother. Mother told Sam to "lay down and behave." No action. Mother repeated, "Lay down, Sam." Still no response.
Then Beth commanded, "Lie down, Sam," and down the dog went. He was, after all, the companion of an English teacher.
Here‚s another true story: Rushing to work, Branita drove too fast and was pulled over by a highway patrolman. The state trooper noticed that her shirt was emblazoned with the name of a local high school. "I teach math there," Branita explained.
The trooper smiled, and said, "Okay, here's a problem. A teacher is speeding down the highway at sixteen miles per hour over the limit. At $12 for every mile, plus $40 court costs, plus the rise in her insurance, what's her total cost?"
Branita replied, "Taking that total, subtracting the low salary I receive, multiplying by the number of kids who fear math, then adding the fact that none of us would be anywhere without teachers, I'd say zero."
The officer handed the teacher back her license. "I once had a teacher who taught me to enjoy math," he confessed. "Please slow down."
Beth and Branita are real teachers, and real teachers are rare and astonishing people:
      Real teachers give themselves away in public because of the dry erase pen marker smudges all over their hands. Real teachers can‚t walk past a crowd of people without snapping their fingers, straightening up the line, and correcting behavior. Real teachers ask quiet people at parties if they have anything to share with the group. When anyone leaves the party, real teachers ask them if they have forgotten their hats, scarves, and mittens. Real teachers always have a tissue in hand in case somebody sneezes. When real teachers empty their pockets at night,  they find two used hall passes, one unused bus pass, a pencil stub, and no money.
      Real teachers' relatives refuse to attend their parties if "it's going to be mostly teachers" because they all talk shop. Real teachers amaze and annoy their friends by correcting their grammar. Real teachers move their dinner partner‚s glass away from the edge of the table. Real teachers refer to happy hour as "snack time."
      Real teachers are irritated by adults who chew gum in public, and they hand pieces of paper to their friends and make them spit out their gum in front of them. Real teachers declare „no cuts‰ when a shopper squeezes ahead of them in a checkout line. Real teachers ask if anyone needs to go to the bathroom as they enter a theater with a group of friends. In a theater, real teachers often turn around and shush the people behind them. Real teachers send other adults to detention when they use bad languageand they go! Real teachers‚ voices are permanently set on high volume from attempting to be heard over students' voices day after day. Any loud noise at home causes them to impulsively flick the light switch off and on.
Real teachers say, "I like the way you did that!" to the mechanic who successfully repairs their car. They ask "Are you sure you did your best?" to the mechanic who fails to repair their car satisfactorily. Real teachers say everything twice. Real teachers say everything twice.
Real teachers wear fuzzy slippers with little animal faces on them. At least one item of their jewelry lights up. Real teachers have at least a dozen colorful sweaters and sweatshirts for each of the holidays, including Flag Day. Real teachers are among the nation's biggest buyers of pipe cleaners. Their neighbors drop off empty coffee cans, margarine cups, L'eggs eggs, milk bottle cartons, scraps of material and old newspapers at their home. While everyone else at the beach is catching up on the latest novels, real teachers are cutting out little oak tag people for their September bulletin boards. Real teachers make little turkey name tags for everyone at their family's holiday dinner.
Real teachers have no social life between August and June. Real teachers want to slap upside the head anybody who says, "Must be nice to work from only 8:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. and have summers off." Real teachers grade papers during commercials, in faculty meetings, in the car, in the bathroom, at social and athletic events, and sometimes even in church and synagogue. Real teachers know the difference between what should be graded, and what should never see the light of day. Real teachers cheer when they hear that April 1st does not fall on a school day.
Real teachers know that secretaries and custodians really run the school. Real teachers have the assistant principals‚ and counselors‚ home phone numbers. Real teachers know that rules do not apply to them. Real teachers do not take "no" for an answer unless it is written in a complete sentence. Real teachers really care that you learn the capital of Idaho. Real teachers never conjugate the verbs lie and lay to ninth graders. Real teachers plan their seating charts so that the shorter pupils can't hide behind the taller ones. Real teachers have already heard every possible homework excuse. They know that dogs are carnivores and not "homework papervores."
Real teachers always have time to listen. Real teachers have their best conferences in parking lots. Real teachers understand the importance of making sure that every kid gets a valentine. Real teachers vow to do a better job than the teachers they had. Real teachers know they teach students, not subjects. When a real teacher meets a parent, she or he instantly knows the answer to "Why is my student like that?" Real teachers understand that they can't reach all their students, but that doesn't stop them from trying.
Real teachers are medical marvels. Real teachers are written up in medical journals for the size and elasticity of their bladders and kidneys. They have eyes in the backs of their heads and the preternatural ability to hear someone in the class whispering. Real teachers have stiff necks from writing on the blackboard while keeping their eyes on their students. They are immune to the smells of collective bad breath and throw-up, kids‚ viruses, and the sound of chalk squeaking across a blackboard.
Real teachers are able to memorize thirty-six names (including nicknames) within the first week of school. Real teachers often remember your name at a twenty-fifth class reunion (and you remember theirs!). Real teachers know every knock-knock joke ever created. They actually know the differences between glue and mucilage and oak tag and poster board.
Real teachers learn to inhale their lunch in as little as three minutes. They actually like fruit cup. Real teachers are able to consume anything left over in the teachers‚ room. Real teachers laugh uncontrollably when people refer to that room as a "lounge." Real teachers buy Excedrin and Advil at Sam's Club.
Real teachers let their life partners know that they won‚t be the primary breadwinner in their marriage. Real teachers drive rustbucket cars they're still trying to pay off and for which they can barely afford the insurance. Real teachers don't wear the latest fashions, unless they got them at half price at a discount store. Real teachers have vacation time but no money to travel. Real teachers get paid to work six hours a day but actually work eight or more. Real teachers spend their summers as waiters, temps, camp counselors, and the like. When real teachers get their first pay check in September, they are reminded that teaching is a job, not just what they love to do.
Real teachers have a highly developed sixth sense. Real teachers know exactly how many Oreo cookies are in a package and how many jelly beans are in a jar. Real teachers can predict exactly which parents will show up at open house. Real teachers know when it's a full moon without having to look outside. Real teachers know that the first class disruption they see is probably the second one that has occurred. Real teachers can "sense" gum. Real teachers never sit down without first checking the seat of the chair. Real teachers hear the heartbeats of crisis.
Real teachers get a lot more valentines than the rest of us. Real teachers are some of the most courageous, caring, and committed people you've ever met. Real teachers lovingly labor in the most unheralded, labor-intensive, multi-tasking, exhausting, income-challenged, and rewarding of all professions. Real teachers are indispensable.
So . . .
      If you sing "The Alphabet Song" to yourself as you look up a number in the telephone book;
      If you fold your spouse's fingers over the coins as you hand him or her the money at a tollbooth;
      If your own children must raise their hand to capture your attention;
      If your refrigerator door looks like a military command center because it is covered with notes, calendars, coupons, phone numbers,
      and a thousand other things;
      If one of the drawers in your kitchen is full of pencils, pens, crayons, markers, erasers, glue, and the like;
      If you stop at the curb to pick up discarded old shelves, bookcases, file cabinets, or magazine racks;
      . . . then, even if you don't work at a school, you are a real teacher.

Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute this article provided the entire piece including the initial two paragraphs ate included. (©2010 Richard Lederer)

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