We don’t need no thought control

It’s strange being on the other side of education. I’m constantly surprised by the thoughts and feelings I have as a teacher, and then realizing that my old teachers might have felt the same way.
First, calling on kids. I hate it. Our school uses a point method, which gives students an incentive to answer. Often in Japan, the students know the answer but are too afraid to speak up. Then, some students try really hard, but answer incorrectly. And of course, some kids are just geniuses and have a paper cluttered with points. So when a bunch of arms shoot up, do I call on the one who raised first? Do I call on the shy student who never answers, but might get it wrong and feel terrible? Do I call on a girl, since the last two answerers were boys? Or if it’s a hard question, do I call on the genius guy waving his arm around like he’s flagging down aircraft, or do I wait for one of the more shy students?
I had no idea the mental torture teachers have to go through.
Then the tests. I want them to do well. I make sure they know points we’ve touched on. In the review lessons, I hint and wink: “TIPPING is an important word to know for American restaurants. Might want to write that down, HINT HINT.” Then I feel so bad when I have to mark something wrong. I want everyone to get A’s, even though it would look really suspicious if they did. And that’s not the way school’s supposed to work anyway, right?
I just never knew that the teachers were secretly pulling for me. When you have a real hardass teacher, you sometimes think they just like to see people fail. Well, I guess I can’t speak for the whole world, but what would some 60-year-old have to gain from tricking a teenager for 9 months and never seeing them again? They just wanted you to learn the damn material.
I’m also surprised at the time outside of school I spend on work. I worry in the shower that my lesson plan has flaws in it. I think about how the last one had problems, and how I can make the next one better. I used to get essays back, of course not being so self-centered to think that the teacher had only read mine, but not imagining this person going through a whole grade’s worth of papers and that mine was just one thin paper in the bunch.
But coming to these realizations has helped me in other ways. I also know that I’m not their only teacher, and they have other lessons to worry about. I know that they have lives and interests outside the classroom, and maybe they’re having a bad day. That while English may seem like their only interest for 45 minutes of my day, they spend the other 7 hours pretending all their other subjects are their only interest.
It’s also teaching me to view my life from a broader perspective. Here I sit in the teacher’s room, worried about what I’m doing wrong, worried about the fact that I wear hot-pink sweaters to work, while everyone else wears neutral earth tones, worried about what I’m doing wrong, if I’m eating at the right time, if everyone is laughing and judging me…until I remember that everyone else has their own lives to worry about! Everyone else is having their own dramas of finishing work and fitting into the system, being a working cog, trying to balance their work life with their home life. You know, being real people.
And for all the standing out and feeling like I don’t belong, it’s when I’m level-headed enough to realize this that I feel the most accepted. Or I could be completely wrong, and they’re all laughing and thinking, “Well, life sucks, but at least I’m not wearing a hot-pink sweater and eating at the wrong time like that moron.” And if so, well, I’m at least happy to be of service in some way.

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