Why I Got Into Teaching from Issue 96
You should teach. It’s a great job. You get the summers off. And you’ll get to hear people say to you for your entire career how great it is to teach because you get your summers off. It must be nice to have your summers off. Do you enjoy your summers off? Why yes, yes I do. That’s why I got into teaching.
It’s a great job, but you don’t know that until June hits and then there are these months—July, August—and it is great, the whole summer to yourself. Off. You sit on a porch, looking out over your yard, and you’ve put faces on your trees—tree faces they’re called. And it’s funny, but in the summer the tree faces kind of look serene and happy, whereas in the winter they take on a more menacing quality, like that scene from the Wizard of Oz where the trees throw apples.
But, yeah, summers are great, and I recommend the profession. Take the standardized tests, get your license, do it fast—maybe teach in an impoverished neighborhood because they’ll take just about anybody with a license. And then, you know, you can just make it—just get that daily grind done because the summer is going to open out to you, a vista, an untapped honey of a summer. You can work on distilling liquors or learn the banjo or go for hikes or take your family on a tour of every baseball park—the kids will never forget these trips—maybe your daughter will write about them in her personal statement to get into college, where she’ll go through and think: What should I do? Teach! Better yet, Teach for America! She’ll get her summers off, which is amazing. And it is very family friendly.
After a few years, it’s possible that it will get tiresome to hear people say how great it must be to have summers off—or, you know, after that one student you liked who got shot, or the one who—well, again, you’ve got the summers to recover. Better yet, if you’re creative, you can spend your summers writing poetry or quilting or doing things with needles or that thing where you paste pictures into albums—something, anything, in summer when it’s hot and the days open up to you, a teacher. Perhaps, while the rest of America is going to work, you’ll go to the pool with your books, wiggle your toes as the pool water clots on them, and you’ll read and fall asleep, or think about how the school year drains all your life blood out of you, day in day out, but thank God you’ve got the summer to yourself to grow new red blood cells and reanimate so that when you return to the classroom in August or September you’ll be great, you’ll have lost ten pounds, your pants will fit, you’ll have some sun on your skin, and your colleagues will look rested, too. You’ll all greet each other and ask, over and over: How was your summer? And, over the years, you’ll answer many ways, most recently, this way: I approve of the summer. I think summer should continue.
If you do become a teacher (I highly recommend it because you will have your summers to yourself), you will become clever and learn how to respond to questions and statements about your teacher life in new and interesting ways, as the speech you want to give to your new students at the start of every new year sings in your head, the speech about honor, respect, the need for clear thinking and speaking, the one about morality, knowing right from wrong, knowing that one should work hard and look at one’s American society with the deepening sense that one must change things, make them better, about Franklin’s message of industry and moral perfection (keep a chart—really, you should), that early in the school morning it is still out there for us to hear, the one about E Pluribus Unum, about sentence structure being important because understanding the structure of language is akin to understanding the structure of thought (ok, I recommend being an English teacher), the one about our country being built upon certain thoughts that all you kids should know—we can do better, can’t we?
That’s what education is, and no kid should have to die in an alley in winter, hold a gun just to feel power and respect, to get clothing, to get juice—man, fuck you, you’re never gonna know a fucking thing about nothing, my girlfriend’s gonna give birth to a dead baby and I’m gonna laugh and be dead by twenty-one, so don’t you try to tell me about no test scores or coming to class every day in this white set up—I know where you live, and when I get out I’m gonna find you and your family. Yeah, teacher, you better watch your back, hear? I’m gonna light you up like Ms. Peck, that bitch. Where I’m at, she’s still on fire running around trying to tell us to try to keep up with the Chinese kids. And that special ed teacher, remember him? We made him run it off—run. Teacher. Run. You wanna support your two families and your retarded child? You wanna teach high school history by day and sell heroin out of your package store at night? Run it off. Run out the dark alley as fast as you can and I promise you, if you teach, you won’t feel it or hear it. And I’ll see you in a second, where it will be summer all year round, maybe a little hotter than you thought, and you’ll be able to reach around your back and feel the craters, poke your fingers into the holes like a teacher trying to believe but needing proof. You want to teach? Stick your fingers in those holes (just don’t look at the front of your body where they come out bigger than a Barnum and Bailey’s Big Top) and root around. You’ve got summer every day for all of your days—summer by the pool that ain’t the color you were hoping.