The Dream came back the other night. Christmas Night, in fact. I think I’m kind of old for that kind of thing. I mean, I’ve been teaching for 13 years now. It’s been literally years since I had the dream last. I should be over it.
But I’m not, apparently.
Teaching naked. You don’t have to be a psych minor (as I was) to interpret this one. Feeling exposed. Aware of your shortcomings. That everyone can see right through you. That you are a fraud.
I take a lot of solace in that Crash Davis line: “I know. I have that dream all the time too.” As one of my favorite instructors (a woman with 30 years in the classrooms of Las Vegas) used to say: “Being a teacher is like being a performer. You have 900 shows a year. And you have to nail every one.”
As a first year teacher, I was terrified that my students would find out I was in my first year. I got hired at my student teaching school, so a few of them knew me from the year before. But I didn’t want anyone to know it was my first time.
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing” “That’s not how my teacher did it last year.” “He needs to look that up!”
The kids there had a lot of experience with rookies. Every year the district faced a shortage of 500 or so teachers the week before school opened. A decade after my first year, there are 7 teachers left that I started with. Out of 100.
Teaching is a battle of wills. And a battle of generations. Students love to let you know they are smarter than you are. Now I know enough to know I don’t know everything. But back then, any loss in the Kid vs. Grownup arena was fatal.
When we moved back to The Region, we ended up living out with the cows and corn. In a city far enough away that it has its own radio station. From a family standpoint, it has been good to us. From a relational standpoint with my students, I feel like I’m better off telling them I’m a Republican.
You see, teaching in The HMD is kind of the family business. My mom was a school nurse for 30 years, 28 of them in Hammond. It’s in my soul. I think it shows. But from a kid point of view, they want to know that I’m One Of Them.
Exhibit A: When we moved to Vegas, we picked an apartment sight unseen. Photos on the web site looked great. Turns out…. not as great as we thought. Which was fine, except for the time the victim of a gang stabbing was bleeding out on my front porch. I ran into my students at the grocery store, at church, at the mall. They knew I was a real Flesh And Blood person. But when they found out where I lived: “Mr. Dull, you live in the ghetto?”
Exhibit B: Fast forward to my current building. Somehow I let slip the hospital I was born in, which happens to be in the same city where I teach. Like I said, family business. Anyway, that neighborhood feeds to one of our rival high schools and well, has seen better days. So my students: “You from the ‘hood, Mister?”
The big thing with me is, I have never wanted to pretend to be something I’m not. I’m the least cool person I know. And kids can smell fake a mile away. So I’m Just Me. I don’t need to pretend that I grew up how they grew up. But apparently, subconsciously, that’s not good enough. At least if I can believe my dreams.
So: Christmas Break. I realized, during my first year, that it is perfectly timed. Still is. This weekend we will all ring in a New Year. 2016. Leap Year. A presidential election. My seniors will graduate. And for me, a complete change of schedule. We are an urban school, trying to do the best for our students and also trying to make sure that that is reflected in our accountability scores with the state. We’ve put a special emphasis on our students who need extra support on our state test this spring, and as such I’ve given up my PLTW classes to teach a full slate of Algebra 1B. Some freshmen, some repeats. I made the move willingly.
But still, I’m nervous. Changes are coming. I want my kids to do well. In everything. I want them to learn, first and foremost. I want them to pass my class. And I want them to pass the state test. I’ve been doing this for a while. I’ve learned what doesn’t work, and I’ve found some things that do. But I still feel Not Good Enough.
Is it that simple? Is that what stirs my dreams?
As someone way smarter than me (Thoreau, I think) said, if you still have dreams, you are still alive.
Thing is, with teaching, you can prove yourself year after year after…. and still, every August, and every January, you have to prove yourself all over again.
It’s a good nervous.