For a veteran teacher, the act of classroom instruction is a lot like the act of sleeping. Hear me out: I’m going somewhere with this.
I’m not trying to say that teaching requires minimal effort, or that we teachers are just going through the motions. (Although then again, I’ve come across a handful of teachers for whom the analogy fits a little too well.) What I mean is that we like everything to be just so. Just as when we get into bed we require a stack of three pillows, the thermostat set to 66 degrees, and the Sleep Number set between 35 and 40, we can’t fathom stepping into the classroom without our Smartboards, our laptops, a strong internet signal, and our own meticulous arrangement of desks.
How did we ever become so finicky?
When you’re in college, it’s amazing what can pass for a sleeping surface in the absence of an actual bed. Seriously, I used to have the tolerance to sleep just about anywhere: futons, couches, easy chairs, the trunk of my car, the ground. I remember visiting a friend in DC during my junior year of college, and being thrilled that he was allowing me to sleep on the common room floor of his one-bedroom apartment. At a certain point, I lost the inclination to sleep anywhere other than in my bed. It’s not just a matter of preference; it’s that my back no longer physically allows me to do it. Last week I dozed off on the living room couch for a half hour, a couch that would have made a fine sleeping option twenty years ago, and spent the next twenty-four hours hobbling around like a nonagenarian.
I can’t say I bemoan having higher standards than I used to, but then again, like teaching, there are situations in which it would be helpful to be able to sleep anywhere, any time, on anything.
Of course, to state the obvious, teaching is, unlike sleeping, a communal activity. Students are counting on me to guide them, or at minimum, to determine how they will spend the next hour of their lives. The stakes are higher, and so are the chances that things will go off script. As much as we try to create routine in our classrooms, we teachers need to be able to roll with the punches. Every teacher learns this lesson on the first day the power goes out in the building, or there’s an unscheduled fire drill. Class is now twenty-five minutes long instead of fifty. What are you gonna do, hotshot? It’s just that we didn’t know until this year just how many punches there could be.
Oh you like teaching? Try teaching online. Now try teaching half online and half in person. Now try teaching everyone in person (except for one kid, just to keep things interesting). You’ve spent fourteen years making copies? Now try teaching without paper.
I’m not sure what the upcoming school year has in store – Masks? No Masks? Maybe teaching by pantomime? The return of the overhead projector? The replacement of facemasks with spandex body suits? – but whatever it is, this past year has left me feeling like there is no adaptive challenge I can’t face. Like the college kid looking for a place to crash, I’m flexible. I can roll with it. Just tell me where to do it, and I’ll do it.
About the Author: A fifteen-year veteran teacher, Alex has spent the last nine years teaching high school English at Boys’ Latin School of Maryland in Baltimore. Over his career he has taught both AP English courses (Literature and Language) as well as several electives including “Modern Short Story” and “Literature of Baltimore.” He holds a BA in English from Kenyon College, an MAT in English Education from Brown University, and an MA in English Literature from Bread Loaf School of English (a graduate program affiliated with Middlebury College). Alex regularly writes for various publications including Boys’ Latin’s own in-house magazine. He lives in Baltimore with his wife Maya and their four-year-old twins (a boy and a girl).