Teach Like the Floor is Lava

My boss puts on this bad-ass, punk rock, “I will fail you for blinking the wrong way (yes, there is a right way to blink, bitches), and then I will eat your beating heart in front of you” veneer. The first time I met the guy (and every time I’ve seen him since then) he was dressed all in black – black jeans, black t-shirt, black blazer, black boots and black-rimmed glasses.  Even his hair was black.  I would venture to say he was sporting some tightie-blackies.  If blackface were socially acceptable, he probably would have even painted his face black.

Allow me to digress for a moment to tell you about the time I did this – when I was six – and I wanted to dress up like my idol, Steve Urkel, for Halloween (please don’t hate me).  Nobody bothered to tell me that there was an entire history behind a white person painting his/her face black that made it incredibly offensive.  I just loved the Urk-man so much, and I was six, so my head was filled with playground gravel.  Also,  all of my textbooks managed to skip around the issue of race, even though they had inexplicable covers like this:

Thank you, 30 Rock.

Thank you, 30 Rock.

or this real, live school textbook

A likely group of friends.

A likely group of friends.

and contained word problems about Chandrakanta, Alejandro, Jazzmyn and Brad buying 100 fish bowls and 30 pairs of latex gloves (most likely for some kind of diversity day ritual sacrifice).  Anyway, I had the pull-string Urkel doll, Urkel-O’s

Do you remember these?  Peasant.  Get behind me.  You were never a true Urk-fan.

Do you remember these? No? Peasant. 

and I could do the Urkel dance like a pro.  To a six-year-old, he was a comedic genius, and I wanted to be just like him, right down to his skin.  I’ve never seen a single picture of my Halloween costume from that year.  Apparently my parents did not want to preserve that memory.

Anyway, despite the dementor façade my boss manifests and his improbable self-labeling as an anarchist,  he’s actually a pretty nice guy and incredibly intelligent.

Yet, I take issue with a piece of advice he gave me shortly after I started teaching.  You’ve probably heard similar such nonsense advice before:  “Teach like you don’t need this job.”

I knew he probably meant “take risks – be inventive – don’t teach for the course evaluations” but what he said was “teach like you don’t need this job.”

But let’s be real humans here, while most of us tolerate our jobs and some of us even find mild enjoyment in them, they are still j-o-b’s – something we have to do, like cleaning (have I mentioned my desk looks like an episode of Hoarders right now) or paying taxes (completed the night before they are due, every single year).  We don’t want to eat dinners of pre-chewed gum scraped from city benches, so we work and eat Ramen.

As much as I find teaching fulfilling at times and amusing at others, and as much as I wholeheartedly believe that teaching is valuable, let’s imagine this scenario.  A nice man, probably dressed like a Mormon missionary, a rich one,  without the backpack and bike helmet, approaches me on the street and says, “You don’t have to do this anymore.  We will pay your bills for the rest of your life.  You want to buy that Barbie Power Wheels jeep your parents couldn’t afford when you were a kid and drive it down the freeway while singing R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”?

This guy gets it.

This guy gets it.

Done. ” After checking to make sure this was not a cult leader or organ harvester, I would take the nice man up on his offer.  Then I would do exactly what my boss advised – I would teach like I didn’t need my job.  I’m not going to lie – the results might not be pretty.  I mean, when I heard the expression “Dance like nobody’s watching,” I did.  I still do, all the time, when I’m home alone, and it looks like this:

With a little of this:

It’s horrifying.


So I imagine if I decided to teach like I really didn’t need the job, it might play out a little like this:

Me: (Sitting in a chair, feet propped up on a desk) What’s up asshats?  Here’s the assignment.  I typed everything out in this 100-page packet.  I will not be taking questions.  Please don’t talk to me or enter my personal space.  Now go away and come back in three weeks with your finished essays.

Students:  Why you ain’t grade my last essay?  This just say ‘Clown College’ real big across the paper.

Me:  That is solid advice.  Look, you clearly wrote that 15 minutes before class.  Please donate it to a hamster cage and then enroll in clown school.  Because you are a clown.

Student:  Dayum! That’s cold.


I’m kidding, before any of you damage your fancy touch tablets by trying to hurl tomatoes through them.

P.S. According to Urban Dictionary, a reliable source, clown college can also be slang for prison.  So, bonus.

I - I'd pick prison. . .

Oh.  I – I’d pick prison. . .


Honestly, even if I didn’t need my job, I would probably still want to teach on some level (with much fewer classes and plenty of vacations to Peru and France and even Plano, TX interspersed in between them).  I really do like helping people (sometimes), and I want to contribute usefully to the world in some way (at least, that’s what I’m supposed to want).  I mean, without teaching, my only legacy so far is this blog and my cat who is currently taking a break from sleeping to stare at a wall.  Later she will probably spend an hour licking her own genitals and then chasing her own tail under the kitchen table.

So – I will always teach, even if I don’t need the job.

But let’s be honest – I do need this job, and so I have to balance on a tightrope holding “What will be beneficial to my students – even future clowns” and “What will my boss look favorably upon without getting hemorrhoids of disapproval” in each hand with “What will keep my students from staging a mutiny with pig heads on sticks” sitting on top of my head.  It’s not easy.  And the floor is lava.

So to my boss and his advice, I say ‘boo.’  He can teach like he doesn’t need his job.  I will continue to do the professional equivalent of this:

This is the coolest man who has ever lived.  None of us will ever be this cool.  Seriously.  No, stop arguing.  It's futile.  He wins.

This is the coolest man who has ever lived. None of us will ever be this cool. Seriously. No, stop arguing. It’s futile. He wins.


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