The Strange Sympathies of the Teacher

I should confess: the following cartoon is not literally true.

2018.8.7 teachers become scar.jpg

But it captures a metaphorical truth, which is that becoming a teacher has estranged me from my friends.

I don’t mean in the present. We still drink milkshakes together, trade gifs, etc. I mean a kind of retroactive estrangement, an expulsion from our shared past. For my non-teacher friends, school is a place visited only in memory; you empathize with the kid you were, and regard the teacher as a distant authority (even if your age now exceeds theirs  then).

But for teachers, school is a place visited daily. Our perspective shifts. I now identify less with my past self than with my own teacherly antagonists.

Remember when the teacher took two months to pass back that paper? Well, he was probably drowning in grading—I don’t blame him.

Remember how she never noticed us passing notes? Yeah, that was so stupid of us; we should have paid better attention.

Remember when the teacher snapped at us even though everyone was talking? You see, the thing about enforcing rules is that it’s impossible to be perfectly evenhanded…

I wish someone had warned me that becoming a teacher rewrites your past. Today, when I look back at my student experiences, I find my empathy turned inside out. Retrained by years behind the big desk, my first instinct is to identify not with myself, but with my onetime opposition, the teacher.

Only with effort can I flip the switch, and see through my student eyes again.

8 thoughts on “The Strange Sympathies of the Teacher

  1. “Remember how she never noticed us passing notes?”
    In this case, it’s not that I don’t notice, it’s just that I don’t care.

  2. Only after I became I realised how my throat hurts all the time and that I actually dont want to shout/scold or even reprimand anyone. Its hard on me (A teacher) to do it

  3. I’ve been a volunteer youth leader for years and now find myself a parent of a 7 year old. I have experienced this many times – I almost always come down on the “authority side”. My poor child!

  4. Part of the problem is simple physics: typical classrooms have sound reflective walls. Whispers bounce and become non local. Whispers grow louder as the background noise grows. Whispers become talking which becomes loud talking.

    This happens to adults as well at conferences and the like.

    Put sound dampening material on two non facing walls and whispers can stay whispers.

    And teachers can spend more energy on teaching instead of sound management.

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