I’ve never told anyone this, but if Barack Obama and I hug, the resulting explosion could destroy the entire Western hemisphere. When that much cool directly encounters my near limitless anti-cool, the results can be catastrophic. If I even spend too much letting my eyes ski down those magnificent cheekbones, there’s risk of a minor explosive event. Despite what my thermostat says, I am just not cool. My students tend to learn this very quickly.
Within my first week teaching, I had already accidentally drawn a pentagram on the board. I thought it would take at least until my second year. It happened when I was explaining something called the rhetorical situation which–in the bastardized, over-complicated version I’m forced to teach–has five separate components: author, audience, purpose, subject matter, and exigence. So I drew it on the board and used a star to show them how all five parts are connected. Then–because I’m not the incompetent villain who prescribed this wonky bullshit to the curriculum I have to teach–I told my students how every situation has constraints which influence everything in the situation. Naturally, I drew a circle around the star to show that. My pentagram was only on the board for a few seconds before I erased half of it and started calling it a parenthesis, but the damage had been done. A few students near me had seen, and I’m glad that I can’t verify if I blushed or not because I can’t see my cheeks.
Another time I found myself a little more embarrassed than I would have preferred was during some group discussion about teamwork, and then there was singing. Though I have a voice like a waterfall of warm molasses, I can sing about as well as your average vacuum cleaner. This vocal affliction has stopped me from singing anywhere outside of showers and places with a lot of alcohol. Unfortunately, I have a weakness. I have sung only one time in front of my students, and it was because I had to, because I was called to, because it was my destiny. When a student mentions Captain Planet and the Planeteers, it is my civic duty to stop class, find the theme song online, and belt out that magnificent tune like it’s the national anthem of a country I’m actually proud of. It did not take me long to realize what I was doing and that 22 young people would forever have the image of their first college English teacher loudly and poorly singing the theme song for a cartoon that ended in 1996. So I slowly crouched behind my desk, still singing, because I didn’t want my face contorted between innocent enthusiasm and absolute shame to be something they can’t forget when they’re trying to sleep. I kept singing because even I know the golden rule of showmanship: the show must go on.
There have been plenty more times I’ve made a fool of myself in front of my class. I Charlie Brown-ed a marker because I could just not kick it out of the way, and all I wanted was for it not to be in the middle of the floor, and why are markers so difficult to kick anyway. I’ve openly referred to myself as an old cat lady which is as embarrassing as it is a fact. Once a little pack of my students saw me walking around town in my “Unseen University” sweatshirt, and immediately knew I am a colossal nerd because I had to explain it to them and suggest several books by Sir Terry Pratchett.
The only benefit I can see from so consistently embarrassing myself in front of my kids is that they’re getting a painfully accurate picture of my personality. I started my first year teaching thinking I’d be the tough-but-fair authority figure who makes a few jokes on occasion, sugar-coated barbed wire. Instead, I’m more like a cynical Santa Claus because I’m jolly and wear a big coat and have a poofy beard, and I have a list of naughty or nice students, but I also think life is pain.