When my book club meets, there are usually two (at least) teachers present. This past meeting, she and I sat next to each other on stools at the end of the long table, which made our similarities and differences more apparent.
We’re both certified to teach English. She teaches gifted, honors-type, college bound, high-achieving kids at a traditional high school where she gets to use her degree in classical studies and the kids are capable of debating the finer points of Faulkner even if it’s just to get an A. When I taught English, I mostly had the kind of kids who needed guidance and graphic organizers to get through a Sharon Draper novel. Currently I teach math, and the students generally have no more idea what to do with the letters they find in that class (I like to call them “variables” because I “gotta use those big words”) than they did in Language Arts.
She can freely talk about her students (as long as she doesn’t mention things like individual grades earned or personal data like addresses or ID numbers). I can’t even confirm a particular student has been at my school, much less in my classroom. This means people who know where I work (but don’t work with me) and I sometimes have a weird little verbal dance whereby I end up feeling like a sleazy politician.
Let’s say a hypothetical high-profile case pops up in the news. Let’s say our hypothetical kid stabbed his parents to death — or beat his girlfriend or set a classmate on fire or shot seven students at his high school. It doesn’t matter what Hypothetical Kid did, really, as long as A) it was heinous enough to end up on the local and/or national news and/or B) it was a slow enough news day that it ended up on the local and/or national news. Now, your friends know where you work (and even some strangers see you sneaking behind the news vulture’s camera to get in the front door), so they call you up. “Hey, do you have that Hypothetical Kid who stabbed his parents to death? Is he in your classroom? What’s he like?” Of course, your students, unlike the AP classical studies lady’s students, are utterly confidential (except for having their faces on Good Morning America as they shuffle into court in leg irons). So, you mutter something like, “I’m not allowed to say.” This makes you sound like JohnEdwardsTigerWoodsBenRothlisbergerEtc. They persist, of course, because nothing makes you feel more important than knowing so minor secret tidbit about someone you saw on TV. So you may feel compelled to explain the juvenile justice process as abstractly as possible until they give up or have to pee. Or you may feel obligated to explain how you had to sign a confidentiality agreement and how you like having a job and how if they want to know anything about HK, they should keep watching GMA until an earthquake happens in Michael Jackson’s former estate or something and the news media moves on.
The school board barely knows we exist — and their ESOL department doesn’t bother telling us about upcoming training we might need. The legislature, when debating “merit pay,” might as well be saying we need to get a cardboard sign that says we’ll explain semicolons or equations for food. The parents usually don’t realize their kids have been enrolled in a school until after they pick them up. The other schools often call back wondering if the progress grades were given by real teachers. It’s like we only exist in the alternate reality behind the doors of the secure area even though we have classrooms with books and shelves and desks and white boards — just not “smart boards” or wireless carts.
Working with delinquents can kind of ruins one’s vocabulary. And if one tries to maintain the SAT/GRE words, the kids who don’t know what a “variable” or “coefficient” is, tend to think you’re speaking Chinese.
Working with the gifted makes one sound “fancy.” Your students ask permission to go micturate. The parents are either high-powered or over-educated.
My students have been known to micturate in the garbage can. A lot of their parents are incarcerated. And they’ve been known to eat the ferrules off pencils and screws out of lightswitch covers.
Then again, getting the gifted to understand exponents is pretty easy. And I generally prefer a challenge.