The beginning of a new school year, like New Year's Eve, is a time to start anew.
A time for teachers, as well as students, to cleanse ourselves of bad habits and past pratfalls and embrace the Lysol-scented hallways. But before I make the resolution to stop eating Berger's cookies and drinking Coke before school, the teachers' breakfast of champions, I have to come clean about something else: Students are wrong about their perceptions of teachers.
We don't sleep at night on army cots in our classrooms, we didn't take a vow of poverty when we decided to enter a classroom and our grading system is more objective than simply throwing darts marked A, B, C and D at students' papers while blindfolded (excluding exams, of course). But the biggest confession -- I'm breaking all kinds of oaths and codes by divulging this -- is that many of us don't look forward to starting a new school year.
Sure, many teachers, as both adults and parents, laugh at that Staples commercial in which an ebullient father leaps past his lugubrious children looking for school supplies while the song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" plays in the background. But it's a nervous laugh. Like students everywhere, many teachers secretly watch this commercial with dread.
Not because we dislike our profession; teaching is something that you have to love to do. (I don't know of a career that attracts more innovative, committed, lucid, compassionate people who accomplish so much -- like shaping entire generations' minds -- on so little pay.)
It's just that the hardest part of teaching, as is true with anything, is getting started. Getting my classroom ready for the new school year feels akin to running a race against a Porsche after I've been eating pizza and watching "Survivor" from the comfort of my couch all summer. Because once September rolls around, teachers shift from a blissfully humane, low, humming gear of the summer into one that grinds into overdrive in seconds flat.
This jolt occurs because teaching isn't solely a career; it's a lifestyle.
You not only have to make sure that you're exposing your students' minds to the knowledge they need for the all-important standardized tests and their overall literacy in all subject areas during the day. When you come home, you grade papers while watching TV, you often conference with parents on the telephone or on e-mail and you go to sleep thinking of new, more effective ways to teach.
The reason students and parents rarely hear teachers complain about this harried pedagogical lifestyle is because our contracts don't permit it. What they do permit is that we can feel the full force of the side-effects of returning to school (so long as it's behind closed faculty room doors and before the first day of classes).
Although these side effects take many forms, the most common is a loss of appetite that begins around mid-August when Rite-Aid and Giant start running price specials on Marble composition books. This stage often develops into nausea after said teacher is again exposed to high levels of Elmer's Glue or those scented Magic Markers.
Hopefully, this previously classified information (by the Board of Education) will assuage many students and will reveal that teachers also suffer terribly this time of year. If students are not convinced of this on the first day of school, they need only pay attention to our aching smiles and inability to come up with a more imaginative writing assignment about how they spent their summer.
Rest assured, we feel your pain.
Andrew Reiner lives in Idlewylde and teaches English to middle-school pupils at St. James Academy in Monkton.