Saturday, August 16, 2008

This Year I Vow to be Meaner

To students and teachers, the 75 days or so between May 31 and August 13 mean they have more choices than they do the rest of the year, and more choices than most workers employed in year-round jobs. I spent 16 years of my life as a full-time student. I’ve spent another 16 years as a teacher. That’s 32 years of my life when, during the summer, I had some lovely choices.

I could choose to go back to school during summer to pick up some more college credits or to work on my master’s degree. I made those choices early on, so I no longer need to worry about whether or not to choose taking more classes. I don’t need them so I won’t take them.

I could choose whether or not to get a summer job to supplement my income. Although I really would like to get more money, I still usually choose not to go back to work. I simply enjoy my free time and work would mess with that.

So, during most summers when I’ve been a teacher, I can choose when to take a vacation, what time to get out of bed, when to eat, and how long to stay up at night. I usually eat, sleep, and wake up at about the same time, but if I wanted to change my routine, I could do it. Nobody’s stopping me, not even my boss.

But, alas, summer is over. Or at least my summer break is over. And now, I don’t have much choice anymore. I have to get up at a certain time (early). And that forces me to go to bed at a certain time. It means I can’t eat when I want or take a vacation when I want. I have to follow the school’s schedule and calendar.

Yes, I know, nobody feels sorry for me because I actually have to go to work every Monday through Friday. Because most people don’t get summers off anyway, except for two or three weeks for vacation. But remember, I have only taught for 16 years of my adult life. That leaves 14 years in which I had a regular, year-round job. So I’ve spent almost as much time working in the summer as I have working with summers off. Trust me; it’s better to have summers off.

But it’s not all so bad, going back to school. Our school building was being renovated over that last three years, and it’s virtually finished now. So everybody has nice clean, modern classrooms with air conditioning. Well, that’s the theory. The brand new air conditioning in my room isn’t working.

There is also a chance to start over with a new group of students. It’s an opportunity to fix the things you knew you were doing wrong the year before. It’s tough to change what kind of teacher you are in the middle of the year, because all the students already know. But with a new group, you can fool them into thinking you’re a lot meaner than you really are. The rule often quoted is, don’t even smile until November. I’ve always smiled too early and have gotten burned because of it.

This year, no smiling. It’s tough love from me from now on. I’ve decided to be the traditional mean teacher this year, but very fair. Good students, bad students, girls, or boys, it doesn’t matter. Everyone must follow the rules or be equally treated to after-school detention. And what if they don’t show up? They don’t get to come back to my class until they do. They can sit in the dean’s office instead.

I can justify my new-found meanness with the disclaimer that science class is for learning about science, so no shenanigans. I’ll let you know how it goes by the time Christmas vacation arrives. We’ll see if I’m smiling by then.

At any rate, I can’t wait for Labor Day. Plus there are only 173 more school days until summer break, and counting.

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