As a student, it always amused me to stumble upon my teachers outside the classroom: at the mall, in the movie theater, or even on the school parking lot. Somehow it seemed strange to discover that our educators had lives and families outside the school property, as if they had apartments in the teacher lounge or — more abstractly — ceased to exist entirely without their class. I would imagine Mrs. Willis and Mr. Phebus melting from the walls at the ringing of the bells, reforming flesh from discarded glitter glue and construction paper like a Terminator villain armed with copious lesson plans and graded algebra tests.
Like Medieval mapmakers, we shape our world through geography, entangling our identities and of those around us with their locations. At school, I am a student; at the doctor’s office, I am a patient; on the soccer field, I am an athlete. My grandmother lives in the stone house that smells of Italian spices and dusty carpets. My siblings live in the apartment above my great-grandfather, who cursed during baseball games so violently that sleeping with earmuffs became a nightly routine. Father Collins can be found inside the church giving communion or just outside sucking down his second pack of Camels. Meanwhile, Dasad and many of other friends lived in a cup de sac near Baltimore, where a one-legged man and his three-legged dog ask for spare change every Saturday. Postmen work at the post office; firemen live at a fire station; politicians appear on the television. I know these people because of where they are, not the other way around.
However, if you were to pluck the firemen from his pole and dalmatian and drop him in a rocketship, to a child and regardless of uniform, he would cease to be a fireman and transform into Han Solo. I’m reminded of that old line from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
In a very real way, we are where we are. Thus, spotting my teachers away from their chalkboards and power points or adorned with short skirts or blue jeans always felt a little blasphemous.
Because of this geographic segregation, I’m always a little nervous when moving through town nowadays. During my first year, I had collided with a pack of my freshman at the local movie theater. Kevin, Brigid, and I had just finished watching Warm Bodies, the Romeo and Juliet zom-rom-com, when a squeal erupted from a crowd of girls. Immediately, the kids and I were surrounding my giggling teenagers, hurling questions at me about which movie we saw, what movie they were seeing, and how little time they had to complete the homework I had assigned. Kevin appeared somewhat impressed. Brigid stepped back and escaped from the hoard ninja-style. Before I could address any of their questions with anything more than a grunt and a nod, the girls hurried off, smiling and waving. Kevin and Brigid, now dumbstruck, could only mutter ‘Wow,’ and ‘This is why teenage girls annoy me’ — I’ll let you puzzle through who said what.
That moment proved an epiphany: my geographical bias was simply my bias, or at least — as I am not arrogant enough to admit sole ownership — my generation’s bias. We children of the 80’s float between two different generations, pre- and post-Internet. Growing up, geography meant something. Hell, even into adulthood it meant something. I once said goodbye to an Oregon girl ten years ago, only a decade by human-counting, but in techno-years, a century. Skype, iPhones, and even texting did not exist. A relationship cannot survive on emails and midnight phone calls in your parents’ basement.
Yesterday, my sister skyped her boyfriend after college orientation. My brothers converse for hours via their phones through texts. A couple in my guild meet for weekly ‘dates’ on World of Warcraft, even raiding the Mogu’Shan Vaults on Valentine’s Day. A little unorthodox perhaps, but even dating is possible without physical contact. All the complications of the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan rom-coms are as archaiac as smallpox and Saturday morning cartoons.
That’s the thing about this new generation, children of the Internet and iPad. Location means nothing anymore, because nothing is compartmentalized. When I was a kid, if I wanted to buy a Lego set, the latest Harry Potter, and a new pair of shoes, I’d visit three different stores. Yesterday, I bought green tea for Mom, preordered a video game (Destiny, in case you’re wondering), carted the Rick Remember’s Black Science graphic novel, and a pair of steampunk boots (for my Comicon costume) from the same online site. All of my purchases will arrive in the same brown box, delivered by the same mailman. These blurred lines always make for an amusing discussion of the modern era.
Thus, if we are to be honest here, I’m the insecure one here — obviously. Outside of the classroom and away from my Powerpoints, the graffitied desks, and Shakespearean props, I do not know how a teacher should behave when he’s not a teacher. The vast majority of us are borderline insane anyway, which does not help improve public relations. Many of my colleagues talk to themselves, dress like 60s protesters (they were) on acid (they are), and possess the accumulated stress-load of a Vietnam POW. We drink heavily both off- and on-duty (it’s not just coffee in those mugs), name our cats after Russian authors, and use words like ‘whole child’ and ‘value-added assessments’ to discuss art class and mid-term exams.
In a small town, it’s difficult to remain hidden too. I haunt the local bookstores, so if seen, I can usually rant about summer reading or excuse myself for a third cup of c-c-coffee. *twitch* Hopefully, they ignore the Deadpool GN and Negima manga hidden under my arms.
Mostly, students and parents expect the professional nod-and-smile, and my usual geek-rant, the egregious Dr. Who references, and Iron Man allusions must be stored away for the fall science course. The veneer is more important off-duty, because teaching is not a job, but a vocation like joining the military or enlisting in a masochistic cult. To quote the Eagles: “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
This is particularly fitting as I sit at Loyola University, my old alma mater, waiting for my sister to finish her freshman orientation. A brother pretending to be a parent listening to an undergrad proffering tours to an alumnae, who just finished teaching 1% of their incoming freshmen. How do I respond to that?