One of the most difficult thing about being a teacher is the fact that I cannot write much about my job. That is to say, I can and — as this post will demonstrate — will, but the repercussions of lawsuits, job loss, and public humiliation always undermine my efforts to write about my life anymore. Other topics such as my siblings, new houses, geek stuff, and adventurous excursions to far off realms may prove fodder for my ‘talents,’ I often fain from ranting of late. It’s not the ‘been there, done that’ feeling per se, the ennui of a former life, but my writing has always centered around my feelings, ponderings, and frustrations about daily living. What is the point of spreading my thoughts across this blank page if — much like a wayward girlfriend — my heart just does not want to commit.
So screw all that. Time to start afresh (which I discovered the other day was one word, not two; the world indeed is awash with wonder, Charlie Brown).
For the sake of my financial independence both present and future, I’ve decided to disguise my students identity with an alias, or a faux nom if you’re feeling fancy or . . . perhaps French. Thus, Students of the Murph, I dub thee . . . Robin. Ta-da. Now, those that know me may assume (which is always a mistake if you wish to avoid the title of ‘ass’ for both you and me) that I choose this appellation due to my obsession with Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, but you, Sir, could not be more wrong. As a matter of fact, Robin serves as the perfect androgynous nom de plume for a school of either boys or girls. Or both! I could teach at either private or public. You never know, because it’s a mystery. I am totally relishing your confusion right now.
So this particular incident occurred the other day during an exam review session after school. Many teachers volunteer their time to review the final test and acclimate their students to information long buried by snow days, proms and the promise of summer.
“. . . its not really instruction. That’s what most people forget. They imagine I hurl lectures and books at kids brains and somehow the words get stuck inside. For some — the bright ones maybe — the facts’ll attach themselves somehow, but mostly the kids will end up bruised and angry.”
I paused to take a sip of coffee, allowing the caffeine to infect my words, driving my passion forward like Ben Hur in a chariot.
“Good teachers are more akin to magicians or used car salesmen, only I’m sellin’ history and science, Napoleon and Einstein. The trick is in the sleight of hand. The kids know its work; how could they forget it? But they have to want to be fooled: read Poe’s ‘Raven’ like Christopher Walken on LSD and they’ll remember the effects even if they forget who wrote it.”
The motivation behind all scientific discovery begins here . . .
October found me eager and excited, brimming with confidence and creativity for my work . . . at least during weekends. However, Monday mornings broke with the din of a funeral march, disturbing those few early morning dreams and ushering me upstairs upon the family couch while reruns of Law and Order painted visions of murder and desperation before sleep-filled eyes. Waiting to leave the house proved the most trying, as my imagination, planting visions of screaming children and growling soccer moms, tried its damnedest to wrack my body with anxiety, upset my stomach and basically ruin the whole of my week.
Thankfully, I had Dunkin Donuts and their wonderful battalion of iced coffees to attack my flagging spirit and sleep deprivation. Truly, the smell alone had a soothing effect; the extra-large galleon-sized container of liquid energy, a balm to my worries. My imagination, drowning in legal stimulants, learned to behave, and I drove to school, happily contemplating Thanksgiving and Christmas break, only three months away.
The fallout from the field trip befell us the following Monday when Dr. T took us in the conference room for lunch. Slowly Ms. P spilled the story, downplaying our absence at the deli (a little) and deleting the abusive pot-smoker entirely (to be fair, the kids were not involved at all). Continue reading
Yeah, the whole trip felt like that . . .
Of all the nonsense that befell Unity over the following months, nothing frightened me more than the sight of the kids stumbling to the edge of the highway, ready to play Frogger with speeding yuppies from Kingsmill and weekend historians.
The man behind us shouting on his cell had already called the police by the time we left the deli. Ms. Jane was screaming for the kids to return when he noticed us. Ms. P and Catherine were still buying snacks on the opposite end of the plaza. Sporting a greasy comb-over and a haunting odor of Axe body spray, the man – who I will forever christen as Little Pesci – addressed me first, obviously mistaking me for the leader of educational band; although it was Ms. Jane who answered.
“Are those your children?” he asked. He had this way of saying ‘your’ like an old woman in a Pollyanna movie, as if only the children’s guardians would possibly summon a pack of middle school students from rushing headlong into traffic and playing dodgeball with a Buick. That fact that he happened to be right only proved the guy was a total prick as well as an idiot. Continue reading
I had been teaching for nearly three weeks when the field trip fell apart. Much like flood, fire, and any other suburban disaster, the whole fiasco proved more horrible in the retelling afterwards amidst a room of anxious parents.
Teaching back-to-back classes to the middle school already had stretched my nerves thin. I had given up most attempts at sleeping, choosing instead to restlessly worry for about four or five hours and then stumble upstairs at four in the morning to wait for my morning commute. Typically – and I mean this in the corniest way possible – I thrive in the shadows of mankind, observing, taking notes and basically keeping to myself. Is that sad? Absolutely. Pathetic? No doubt. Anti-social? Hey, you’re three for three here. However, that’s me. I idolized Batman a lot as a kid. Continue reading
My lesson on Native Americans allowed us to make ceremonial masks.
“. . . and now I would like to introduce our newest teacher, Mr. Murph . . .”
Dr. T pauses to laugh. A few amused smiles dance across the faces of my fellow teachers. I politely offer a grin, grateful for a few extra minutes to map out my introduction.
“Actually, our second Mr. Murph . . . as you can see we’ve hired not only another Jess, but another Murph as well this year. As many of you know, we already have a Mr. Murph teaching gym,” she gestured toward the grizzled man in grey sweats, two seats down; Mr Murph nodded. “For the sake of the kids, we probably won’t change his name. So we’ll have to think of another nickname for you, Murph. Have you thought up anything yet? Mr. Murphey, maybe?”
“Um . . .” I momentarily falter. “Well, the kids have dubbed me MK . . . uh, using my first and last initials.”
“Ooo . . . I like that . . . Mr. MK,” Ms P, the drama teacher, interjected with a deep British accent. “Kinda rolls off the tongue.”
A frown lingers on Dr. T’s face for a second or two, yet just as quickly, she returns to her sales-pitch, all smiles and gratitude. Two weeks into my teaching post at Unity, and I still felt rather guarded toward the school principal. Though impressions varied among the staff, I treated my employer with polite respect and mild indifference. Continue reading
So I should probably mention that I detest public speaking. Had I chosen to enlist as a coal miner, model, or French mime this phobia would not be a problem and in the case of uh . . . mime-ery an attribute; yet teaching necessitates standing before a class of over-stimulated youth and – unfortunately – talking.
Fancying myself Sherlock Holmes (seriously for ten consecutive years, I donned a hunting cap, pipe, and syringe – I was nothing if not authentic) I approached society with a polite but friendly reticence, preferring the company of a few close friends and family to crowded bars and orgies. The rest of the family were more extroverted: Dad and Katie could find themselves stranded amid the snow-capped wastes of, say . . . . Siberia and make fifty new friends within the hour. They’re born on stage. I always chose to work behind the curtain, making others look good while hoisting props and managing the fires; to paraphrase Prufrock, no Prince Hamlet, am I, indeed.
This is not to suggest that I possessed no skills whatsoever in the profession. Somehow my own inherent nervousness in the classroom seasoned my lessons with an honest excitement that cannot be duplicated by an 80-year old professor who recites his lessons with the same enthusiasm a twelve-year-old recites the Code of Conduct.
Moreover, it helped that my level of maturity synched well with the kids. My lessons on chemistry were peppered with references to alchemy, talks of wizardry, potion-making, philosopher’s stones, and turning lead into gold. I compared the strategies of the British army in the Revolutionary War to turn-based RPGs like Final Fantasy VI. Wanted posters in Assassin’s Creed formed a good foundation for ‘memory’ in the immune system: “The more posters around, the easier it is for white blood cells to find culprits.” Nearly every lesson on photons, force, and philosophy referenced films: “Back to the Future,” “Star Wars,” or Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Continue reading