Yesterday a student asked me if I ever get in a bad mood. She told me she had trouble imagining me being angry or upset.
I laughed and told her that I’m just like everyone else–I have good days and bad. I then explained to her that when you’re a teacher, you adopt something similar to a stage persona.
It’s understood in our profession that teachers become almost archetypes to their students and even the general public. For example, it was always weird for me to see my teachers out and about when I was in high school. It was definitely strange to see them in regular clothes on a walk or something–kind of like spotting a Sasquatch in the wild. I used to joke with my students that I kept a cot in my classroom’s closet and that’s what I slept on at night. Some of them didn’t think twice about it.
Look, we all have bad days. I understand that.
But as a teacher, I’m not really afforded the luxury of hiding out for the day. I can’t put in my earbuds, ignore everything around me, and just get my paperwork done. Like a prize fighter, when that bell sounds, I’ve got to move to the center of the ring whether I want to or not. If I’m not engaged with the students, if I’m not enthusiastic about what I’m teaching, my day will only get worse.
That’s when the persona takes over. That’s when “Mr. Foley” comes into full effect. That’s when the show starts.
I bet you’re thinking, “Why don’t you just tell the students you’re having a rough day and need to relax at your desk.” Funny. Have you ever had to manage twenty to thirty teenagers an hour at a time, five times a day? That’s just not the way it works. Most don’t necessarily care if you’re having a bad day, nor should they. I’m there to do a job, and if I’m there, I better be doing that job to the best of my ability. Most of them have their own problems to think about. I’m the adult in the room, after all.
Some teachers call in sick if they know they are not up to facing a total of 150 students throughout the day. Some people call it a “mental health day.” Let me tell you, it’s a pain to call in sick. You have to leave sub plans for each and every class period, and they better be detailed. Some kid invariably decides to test the sub’s mettle and so that has to be dealt with upon returning. There’s also grading from that day to complete. It’s easier just to go to work, honestly. That’s why most of us go in even if we’re at Death’s door–it’s simpler to grind it out than to make sub plans. Don’t even get me going on elementary teachers. Can you imagine writing an entire day’s worth of plans for a sub? At least at the high school level you only have to leave plans for two or three courses spread out over the day. At the elementary level, they’re doing something different all day long.
I’m not looking for pity. It’s just that I think we are often seen as a service or resource and not as actual people. Like you, we have families, bills, victories, losses, dreams, and tragedies. Like you, we have good days, and we have bad ones. However, if we’re having a bad day, our job is to make sure no one ever knows.
The show must go on.
(Did you enjoy this article? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)