It’s funny how easy it is to make someone feel completely inadequate.
Wanna know how? I’ll tell you.
First, find a person who just set out to climb a decent sized hill. Second, sit at the top and wait for them to summit. Third, once they make it, allow them to dance, sing, and celebrate their accomplishment for about thirty seconds. Then, as they’re taking in the limited oxygen and snapping a photo of the breathtaking panoramic view all while exhausted and dehydrated…
Show them a picture of 80 year-old Yuichiro Miura on top of Everest.
Ok, now wait for the smile to fade… wait for it… wait for it…
Ah, there it goes.
In education, this happens all the time. And that morning, the morning of my impromptu Friday observation, it happened to me. Despite my principal’s best efforts to lift me up and push me to be my best, he “critiqued” me on ways I could improve my teaching. He told me I could do better. He implied I should do better.
But why me? Why must I be Tremendous? And what was wrong with how I was teaching before? I’m not saying I was a perfect teacher, but I sure as hell had given this job everything I had. The educational hills I had climbed left me feeling depleted. Maybe I hadn’t scaled the Himalaya’s, but on certain days, it sure as hell felt like I was crawling up a mountain.
The thought of putting even more into my career, the thought of skipping even more breakfasts, more trips to the gym, more bathroom breaks, more time spent with my friends, more of the things I wanted to do… It left me feeling like… like…
Like I didn’t want to climb anymore.
PETE: So I guess it’s safe to say the lesson didn’t go well…
After a long day, feeling tired and exhausted, Pete and I ended this particular Friday like we usually do – by retreating to the local watering hole and drinking ourselves drunk. I’m telling him about my observation.
ME: Ugh, no.
PETE: So what happened?
ME: Well, I overslept this morning so I had nothing planned. Instead of being honest with him about it, I tried to wing it. As I’m about half-way through the lesson, Katie Shimpeck raises her hand and says “Mr. Dagenous, why are you teaching section 7? We are on section 3.”
PETE: Oh man! You forgot what section your class was on??
ME: Hey, I have three Geometry classes and they all move at different paces. I mixed them up.
PETE: Haha. Man, that’s bad.
ME: Thanks, Pete.
PETE: So what’d you do??
ME: I kept teaching the lesson and pretended like it was intentional. “Thanks for your astute observation, Katie, but Section 7 directly correlates to what we were learning in Section 3.”
PETE: And did it?
ME: No. Section 7 was how to find the volume of a cube. Section 3 was how to find the area of a triangle.
PETE: Haha! Oh man, that’s bad. Do you think Forsken bought it?
ME: Not at all. He said I looked “rushed and unprepared.”
PETE: But you are rushed and unprepared.
ME: I know…
PETE: I mean, what teacher isn’t? I haven’t written a lesson plan since college. I can’t remember the last time I walked into class and knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
ME: Haha. Strangely, I don’t doubt that.
Our conversation is interrupted.
BARTENDER: Another beer?
Pete gives me a long look then swivels his stool back towards the bartender.
PETE: How about a pitcher?
BARTENDER: Oh, one of those days, huh?
PETE: Yep. Sounds like it. Don’t worry, Ray, this ones on me…
Pete throws down a twenty.
ME: Ha, you don’t have to do that.
PETE: I know.
Despite his less-than-adequate commitment to his job, Pete has been a good friend over the years. He’s always been there when I’ve needed him most.
There’s a brief pause, then Pete changes the subject back.
PETE: So what else did Jim say?
ME: Meh, he said he was surprised at my performance because he thinks I can do a lot better. He said his observation notes would go into my evaluation file and, if I wanted another chance, he could observe me again later this year.
PETE: Man, I’m sorry. That’s rough…
We both take a sip of our beers. As the alcohol kicks in, I begin to reminisce about the past.
ME: Man, whatever happened to the good ole days, you know, when you could just show up to class and say, “Hey kids! Come on in! Today we’re going to learn about stuff and things. Some of it will be interesting and some of it won’t. But, doggone it, I’m gonna do my best to show you a good time and make our day together fun!”
PETE: Umm, I don’t know. Was that ever a thing? Were you at one time a clown attempting to lure kids into your car?
PETE: Haha. Cuz that’s what you sounded like.
ME: Oh, shut it. You know what I mean.
PETE: Well, I don’t know what to tell you man. This is the way teaching has been and always will be. Test scores – and some arbitrary number on an extensive evaluation model – tell you how important you are.
ME: Yeah, it’s bullshit.
PETE: Well, there’s always that modeling career you were interested in…
ME: Ha! Maybe when I first started teaching. Now I’m too old. Nobody wants a nearly 30 year old out-of-shape dude with a beer belly and thinning hair to model for them.
PETE: Hey, flat screen TV’s always have dudes like that pictured on the outside of their boxes…
ME: Ha, real funny.
PETE: What? I’m being serious. The guys are usually sitting on their couch eating Cheetos and watching football… Maybe you could model for Sony. Haha.
Pete laughs at his own jokes.
ME: I’m glad you can find humor in all of this.
PETE: I have to… or else I end up like you.
ME: Ugh, you’re right. Man, how did I get here?
There’s a brief pause as Pete waits to see if I’m actually expecting an answer to that question.
PETE: Um, I don’t know…
ME: You know, there was a time when I loved teaching… when I had optimism, energy, and passion…
PETE: There was?
ME: Yeah, there was. And it wasn’t that long ago.
ME: Yeah, it was different. When I entered this career, things were different…
There’s another pause as both of us consider my esoteric thoughts.
PETE: So what happened?
That was a great question – a great question I didn’t have the answer to.
So as the alcohol from my first beer slowly circulated through my veins and made me feel a little loopy, I began to fade in and out of reality. My need for resolution, my desire to be happy at my job, forced me into a long and deep seated flashback of a time when I first started teaching… when I first fell in love with this job…
When I first believed…
I would change the world.