I have, in recent days, been subject to the enthusiastic support of several people who have absolutely no idea what teaching is like.
These people are, besides the kids, the lifeblood of my profession. I’ll take a happy parent over a good score on an Educator Effectiveness quadrant any day. But one of the things that keeps coming up is bothering me. It’s this notion that teachers are superheroes.
We are, of course. But not in the way you’re thinking. Here, for your edification, are a selection of actual teacher superhero alter-egos:
- Impervious To Vomitus. This was something I absolutely could not handle before becoming a teacher. I was one of those people who saw someone look vaguely ill and ran in the other direction. However, after a particularly virulent stomach virus rampaged through the school last fall, and after escorting the fourth child who had vomited in class to the nurse while holding a trash can in front of her, I realized that I no longer had any meaningful reaction.
- The Eyebrow. Today, I stopped a kid from running from the other end of the hallway. For real, he took off running, looked up, saw me glaring from fifty feet away, and skidded to the fastest halt I have ever seen.
- Hmm, the Human Lie Detector. My kids love to try to tell me why their homework isn’t done. They come up with a whole range of sob stories. I especially love the ones who swear up, down, and sideways that they didn’t ever get the homework only to look surprised when I turn it up…in their homework folders. But the best part of this superpower is the ability to know when a kid actually is having a rough time. There’s nothing better than looking a kid in the eye when they’re crying because they haven’t finished an assignment and saying, “It’s okay.”
- Side-hugger of Steel. My kids this year are huggers. Last year, not so much. I mean, last year I had 6.5 billion boys in my class, so that might have contributed. But this year, you’d better believe those hugs are coming fast and furious. The trouble is, fourth-graders are just about boob-height and indiscriminate about hugging. This superpower allows me to detect a hug coming from any direction and angle my body so that the hugger is met by one arm and a somewhat discouraging hip.
- The Drafter. I am notorious in certain circles (by which I mean my husband) for meeting people and then basically strong-arming them into coming to talk to my class. I love guest speakers. So far, I have had a police officer, a local actor, several parents with varying skills/professions, a sibling, a representative of a local birding group, a woman who came through a major immigration center, members of the local college athletic program, and more. My motto is, “When in doubt, ask anyway. Possibly with a sighing monologue about how underfunded public education is these days.”
- The Cross-Examiner. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I am a superb detective. No one told me elementary school would be an endless cul-de-sac of he-said-she-said (or as it actually happens at this grade level, he-said-he-said or she-said-she-said-she-said). I love a good mystery, though, and have solved some corkers, like the Case of the I Counted to Twenty But He Didn’t Get Off the Tire Swing, the Evil Pencil Eraser Cap Thief Who Is Definitely Not Just Me Dropping Erasers on the Floor Where the Custodians Throw Them Away at the End of the Day, and best of all, the I Think a Kid Who I Can’t Identify Might Have Been Saying Mean Things About a Third Party I Also Can’t Identify Caper.
- World’s Greatest Unjammer. If it is jammed, I can fix it. Stapler? No problem. Pencil sharpener? Just give it a few whacks. Photocopier that originally belonged to our Australopithecene ancestors? At this point, it unjams after a stern look. Locker? You just have to know where to kick. Lock? There’s a specific three-jiggle procedure. What I’m saying is I could definitely start a side business fixing stuff broken by enthusiastic misuse by 8- to 10-year-olds.
Basically, your first years of teaching are like being bitten by a radioactive spider while being blasted by gamma rays and experimented on by the military en route from your homeworld of Krypton. It’s quite an adventure.