Teachers and the Exploding Head

Bored Teachers, a website that seems to live off of kind of cheesy teacher jokes, recently posted a meme on facebook. It was a simple request of teachers: your last five emojis used show your “current teaching mindset.” I’m not the kind of person who usually responds to this sort of thing, but I quickly looked through the comments to see a lot of the exploding head emojis and the hand in the face emoji. 

Makes sense. 

I quickly scrolled in my messenger app to find the exploding head, the hand covering the yellow guy’s face embarrassed emoji, and the “oops” or “oh shit” emoji face. There were a few inappropriate hand gestures, fruits, or vegetables, that I promise are only used ironically with my wife… or Adam, my co-blogger here. But those seem kind of irrelevant. 

The point is that if you took the time to look around the hallways of your building last week, or talked to one of your colleagues while you were frantically running people over to make copies, you probably saw some heads exploding or faces buried in hands. Last year, I wrote about teachers in September and talked about all the absent-minded mistakes we make like leaving the milk in the cereal cupboard. My wife always smiles, rolls her eyes and jokes about how pathetic I become in at the beginning of a school year. I always wonder if I am always kind of pathetic, and that she is just being nice by making it seem like it only happens in September. 

Another common Bored Teacher meme always shows a teacher in September vs. a teacher in June. They show a model in September, perfect clothes and neatly groomed, and show something like a drunk disheveled yeti in June. For me, and many teachers I know, it is actually kind of the opposite. I feel like a drunk yeti right now. By June, my hair will be combed and I’ll have taken a shower. I’ll be a well-groomed, drunk yeti.  

This year, it has really struck me why each September is one of the hardest times of the year for this introverted, and hopefully thoughtful, teacher. 

In the first weeks of school, each teacher in America gets to know a whole new set of children who are filing into their classroom. For my daughter’s kindergarten class, the teacher has to learn to know 20-something new people who she didn’t even know existed a month ago. She has to go from a name on a paper, to a real person that she will spend just as much time with over the next 180 days as their parents. She has to learn what my daughter knows and what she doesn’t know, she has to learn what makes her excited and what makes her angry, and what behaviors she should encourage and which ones she should try to redirect. She has to know something about her home life, her parents, her friends, and how she learns. 

And she has to do this for 20-something kids. 

High school teachers have a slightly different task. I know the names of the 120 kids who will fill my classrooms before they even arrive, and I can find most of the information about their performance that I need. Then, in the first few days, it is a relentless game of filling in all the gaps that don’t show up on paper. It is connecting faces with names and learning everything that may be helpful in teaching each of those 120 students for the next 10 months. 

One student works harder than anyone in her class, but is clearly struggling to read. 

Another student told me she was homeless all through middle school and didn’t attend school much. 

One student didn’t pick his head up off the desk for the first two days. When he finally did, I saw his eyes welling with restrained tears. 

Another boy almost cried the first time I asked him to write. But then immediately covered it up with a line of angry profanities.

One girl has the quickest wit I have ever encountered, but doesn’t know how to hold it back. 

There is the student whose smile is almost constant and they bring light to the room. Except for that one day it wasn’t there at all, and I’m not sure why. 

With 120 students, there are 120 sets of fears, hopes, concerns, traumas, loves, smiles, and unique, and sometimes cluttered, lived experiences. 

And the good teachers work their hardest to learn all of that so that it can eventually inform the way that teach each student. And in the process of learning all of that, it makes sense that our heads would explode, or we would bury our faces in our hands, or that we might put the milk in the cupboard a few times. 

Sorry if I’m not making much sense. 

I’m a teacher in September.