Teaching is a weird job. Teachers get paid–a little–to essentially stand in front of people and update them on everything humanity has learned so far. It’s the career equivalent of the “previously upon” part of tv shows. The other weird thing about teaching is that a few times during the academic year and a few times in the Summer, I get a new flock of youths to update on all the nifty things people have figured out so far. Then I have to talk to all these people for anywhere from a month to 16 weeks. So, for a chunk of a year, I get to think of weird ways to tell a bunch of people everything I know and hope they know some of it by the time we’re through with each other. In a few days, I’ll be getting two new batches of youths, and it feels a little like having children combined with being a professional dog trainer. That’s mean, but it’s as accurate as I can get.
As I’m about to get a new set of youths, I’m running through a now-familiar set of emotions. I always start out excited because I love my job. It’s fun to think about new students in the abstract because each name on the roster represents someone new and interesting, and sure they may blend in my memory years later, but while I know them and have to teach them, they’re a lot of fun. Even the students who end up being absolute assholes are interesting.
My first feeling about starting a new class is always excitement, and then the apprehension hits. What if they don’t like my jokes? What if they realize I’m only a few years older than them, and then they do the math and figure out I’ve only been teaching for a few classes, and then they know I’m fresh, barely tested. Students, like wolves, sharks, and printers, can sense weakness. The infinite potential for meeting a class of interesting people doubles as potential for a semester trapped with a mob of laser-focused supervillains highly trained to pick and jab at your every flaw. This hasn’t happened to me, and it probably never will, but I am just obsessive and irrational enough to dwell on the thought until my next pre-semester set of jitters moves in.
Despite my best efforts, I get older every year. Every day, even. I’ve spoken to a priest and several scientists or various fields, but none of them were of any use in halting my aging. My search continues, but until I find a unicorn and suck it dry or a vampire does the same thing to me, I will be assaulted by a generation-inspired panic when I think about the age of my new students. This next set is in high school. I was in high school less than 10 years ago, which should be a comfort, but then I remember that I wasn’t exactly the bee’s knees back then either. For example, I said things like “the bee’s knees” and talked just a little too much about dragons. I panic before meeting my students because I know I won’t be able to keep up with their culture, but that usually only lasts long enough for me to remember I don’t have to keep up with their culture. One of my course evaluations said I was “hip,” which I think translates to “he’s not cool, but he’s trying.”
It’s kind of a shame I’m a teacher in charge of educating young minds when I am actually three children standing on each other in a big coat with mannequin arms sticking out the sleeves and a Sharpie beard. Imposter syndrome is real, and it hits like a linebacker made of bricks. I’ve studied my own CV and resume just to remind myself I have the experience to do the job I already have, but the feeling that I’m a fraud doesn’t go away until I meet my students and really find out I can be useful to them. I’ve heard other, way more experienced teachers feel the same way. It’s not fun, but it’s always a relief to be reminded of your relentless competence when a student asks you how to send an email.
And then class starts, I get to meet my new students, and they’re all pretty standard people. Some of them are interesting, some are nice, some are assholes, some are hard to remember at the end of the day. Teaching is weird, and then it repeats. When I think of myself in the far future, dead, I wonder if students will come to my funeral, and if they do, I wonder if I’d have recognized any of them, and I wonder how many of them will have first thought of me as an obstacle.