I’ve been a full-time teacher for six months now, as long as I have ever held a full-time position anywhere (second place was the local music school, which I left after three months upon discovering I got paid about two-thirds of the minimum wage). The commute is still fairly daunting, but I’m adjusting. I’ve got a nice housemate, in a pretty little village, good colleagues and my own office (which appears to be the most unaccountably messy of the whole school). The students are decent. Their level in English ranges from appalling to mostly promising, but English not being their main focus, it’s quite understandable. The routine is fine. I get long week-ends on most weeks. If I didn’t have the Dissertation Monster clawing at my heels and stubbornly refusing to die, it would be an enviable lifestyle.
There’s just one minor problem. Either I’ve been distracetd by the Monster or I don’t have what it takes after all, but I’ve yet to discover how not to let the minute aggravations of the work get to me.
Being a teacher is a very particular kind of work, and teaching classes instead of individuals is even more special. It’s a job where the goal is by definition unattainable. The ideal teacher is supposed to help all her students learn and understand a pre-defined number of things by the end of the year, regardless of their initial level. That implies helping some of them discover their hidden intellectual qualities, sometimes fixing the work of sloppier teachers they encountered before, giving them a taste for your subject and empowering all of them towards autonomy, while not letting the more competent students get bored and stop paying attention. Needless to say, nobody can do it. Learning to accept that, and learning to deal with the bitterness of so many adults who blame bad teachers for their failings, is one of the first things you need to do.
In other words, it’s a job where failure and dealing with people’s ressentment is part of your daily life. I should make a list some day of all the passive-aggressive people feel it’s all right to say to a complete stranger upon learning they’re a teacher, especially an English teacher. That’s fine. I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with the fact that my students’ failings are not necessarily my own and that sometimes this is a job you have to do just like another job: showing up on time, doing what you’re paid for, walking home with the money, instead of feeling you’re responsible for the future of your charges. I’ve accepted that.
Intellectually speaking of course.
Here’s the thing. Teaching an impopular subject in a school where many students have a preconceived (and usually negative) opinion about it and their own capacities exhausts me. I know that by now, I should have given up on the iidea that I’ll be able to make all of them enjoy English and develop basic knowledge, or even learn elementary social skills like shutting up when somebody else is talking, using appropriate language and now chew gum so loudly the whole class can hear you. So far, I’ve not only been unable to do that, I also decided on a whim to make them work on presentations about some useful subjects, like how to respect the environment as a professional or understand basic ethical problems like child labour. Since my students are learning about logistics and international supply chains, I figured, you know, that could be useful. For the rest of the world, if not for them.
What can I say. 19-year-olds are a conservative and narrow-minded bunch, when they don’t make efforts not to be. It’s incredibly depressing how many of them seem to think it makes you clever and edgy to be completely cynical, especially when they don’t know the first thing an important subject. As if “Ethics re useless because people don’t care anyway” was the cleverest thing they could think of. I swear next time an obnoxiously priviledged and entitled teenager lecture me about how it’s all right if some people in other countries have to work eighty hours a week for a dollar, I’ll throw them out of the window. It’s infuriating. And it’s even worse, because I just can’t cram the notion into my head that it’s not my fault.
Perhaps I’m just not cut out for this job. Perhaps this is yet another part of my life that the Monster is making much more difficult than it ought to be.
We’ll see. Someday.