From the time I’ve woken up to the time my first student doesn’t return my practiced good-morning smile, I’ve made more regrettable decisions than a drunk kleptomaniac in an unsupervised museum gift shop. Why do I do these things, I’ve asked myself while laying on my kitchen floor instead of cooking breakfast like a functional adult. Why do I leave grading to the last minute, and then immediately turn around and tell my students not to procrastinate on their papers. I am a living, scowling hypocrite of unreal proportions, and I absolutely can never let my students know that. I may have stayed up until 2 in the morning drinking, but I still have to come to class and tell a student to please stop watching videos of synchronized dancing when you’re supposed to be working on anything in the world except synchronized dancing.
During my first semester teaching, I forgot to write my lesson plan. I remember that day clearly because I was bored for a few hours before class and just sat in my office playing with my stapler and doodling. I was like a bunny in a meadow, peacefully munching a flower and scratching my big bunny ears just before a thermonuclear strike–so oblivious, so fluffy, so utterly annihilated by what would come to pass. I realized I had nothing planned once the early students asked me what we were doing that day. My answer went something like “We’re going to… do… work. Writing,” and then the bees in my brain started screaming at me to abandon the class, run to the woods, live in exile.
I did not run to the woods–and it’s a little disappointing how many times I’ve had to battle that impulse. Instead, while students trickled into class, I panicked and threw something together that could take the entire hour with little direct intervention from me. Most of the class was spent writing or drawing, and I think some videos were involved. I remember rolling around the room in one of their desks I had commandeered. I remember wondering how long it would take them to realize that this entire hour had been thrown together in a few frantic minutes and that their teacher is a fraud.
Apparently, my students never noticed that I am an imposter. They treated the day like any other, and nobody stopped me in the hall to say I was going to be sent back to re-do my undergrad because of that sorry display in there.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important thing my students can never know about me is how laughably close I am everyday to things just falling apart. I know teachers who lesson plan months in advance, who schedule extra office hours, who buy things for their students, who write personalized notes to every kid at the end of the semester, but then there’s me buying pizza for my class because they didn’t mention politics the day after the election, and I had to use a coupon one of them brought to class.
I tell my students that as the semester progresses, my hair will gain fluffiness directly proportionate to how close I am to losing my mind. For 8 out of 16 weeks, I look like Einstein struck by lightning. With every narrow escape from everything going three species of pear-shaped, I look less like a teacher, and more like the English department’s very own mad scientist.