The Secret Lives of Teachers: Part II

Spring is finally here at the foot of the Sierras. It sure took long enough. With the coming of spring comes the final push at the end of the academic semester. As a student, you may be silently (or not so silently) cursing your teachers for the amount of work you have left to do for their classes. So, I figured that it would be a good time to reveal a few more teacher secrets. You can read the other secrets that I’ve revealed in “The Secret Lives of Teachers: Part I”.

Cherry Blossom 2 -- 2019
Spring has sprung.  Woot woot!   Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
  1. We feel horrible when a student cries in class or after class. I’ve had a couple of students cry either in class or after class—one from happiness and gratitude, one from embarrassment, one from anger, one from being overwhelmed with grief from losing family members, and one from what I believed to be a broken heart. No matter how mean or uncaring you believe a teacher to be, no teacher wants to see students cry. What makes it worse is that, as an instructor, you’re not sure how much comfort you can give to a student. You’re not supposed to touch students (which is actually a good policy), but when you see a student crying, all you want to do is give them a hug and reassure them that it will all be okay.  I guess that I could have tapped my students gently on the shoulders with Expo markers to try and mimic a comforting touch–“There, there, it’ll all be fine.” *tap* *tap*  I wouldn’t be touching them then.  Yeah . . . I’ll just stick to verbal comforting.
  2. We have lives outside of the classroom. I didn’t really understand this concept as a student. For example, when a teacher didn’t have my essay graded in what I thought was a “timely manner,” I would get frustrated and think that the instructor was slacking. For most instructors, that’s not the case. Teachers have multiple classes to teach and with that comes multitudes of papers. Plus, they have outside responsibilities and some even have second or third jobs. Oh, and some have families, some have various relationships to tend to, and some are still in school themselves. *cough* yours truly *cough* *cough* Add on top of all this that they’re supposed to be doing outside work (such as writing and publishing articles or giving presentations at conferences) specifically to enhance their careers while eating healthy, exercising, practicing some sort of mindfulness to stay sane, paying attention to current events, and getting enough sleep. Who am I kidding? I’m not sure that any teacher gets enough sleep. This is not to diminish what students have to deal with, because students are always juggling multiple things. This is just to say that both sides—teachers and students—are busy and are perhaps not so different in this respect.

    White Blossom 2 -- 2019
    The amount of flowers on this branch corresponds well to how many things teachers may have to juggle outside of their classroom responsibilities. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
  3. Stuff happens to students’ papers that we rarely reveal to students. With all of the papers that teachers are grading, organizing, handing back, and accepting, some papers go on, well, I suppose that you could call them “unique journeys.” For one of my students’ papers, my puppy grabbed the essay from the pile and ran around the house. My dog was literally trying to eat my student’s homework. Luckily, I caught her before she started ripping the paper, and I was mostly able to smooth out her teeth marks. The worst case I’ve ever seen was when I had an instructor whose 4-year-old son poured diet Coke into her teaching bag. My paper got the brunt of it, and she returned my very sticky, brown essay with an apology. Personally, I think that five extra credit points would have been nice as well, but details, details.
  4. Some of us really and truly love teaching, and some of us are just putting in the hours. Not every teacher loves his/her job. Not every teacher puts in effort. For those of us instructors who do love teaching and give it our best efforts, those other teachers tend to drive us a little bonkers. We all get paid regardless of how much effort we give to our students and our grading. It’s not fair, but many of us put in that extra effort despite the lack of monetary incentive because we genuinely care about our students and want them to be successful in our classes and in the rest of their lives, academic and otherwise.
  5. We want students to have fun in our classes. I’m not sure that any teacher wants class to be absolute drudgery for his/her students. We teachers may know that certain topics are going to be boring, but we don’t actively try to make things boring for students. Admittedly, I believe that some teachers give up and put little effort into making a lesson plan entertaining, but I don’t think that they purposefully make things boring. Believe me, teaching is a lot more fun and the time passes more quickly when students are actively engaged in the lesson plan, and it’s super exciting (yes, I’m being serious) when students are having fun with the lesson plan while actively learning a concept. Those are some of the times in which teaching is truly magical.

    Cherry Blossom 1 -- 2019
    Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
  6. We can tell when we’ve “lost” our students. By “lost,” I mean that the students are bored, zoning out, or are just like so over whatever we’re talking about. Students get this glazed look with slack mouths and sleepy eyes when a teacher “loses” them. You know, kind of like how a zombie looks. I never realized how obvious this was when I was an undergraduate student, but I do now as an instructor.
  7. Some of what students get annoyed at is out of the teacher’s control. One of the few things that I continuously get hammered on in my evaluations is that there is “too much writing” in my writing course. Little do students know that the department (i.e., the entity that I have to answer to) demands that students write a certain number of pages each semester. This constraint informs the assignments’ lengths, the number of assignments, the assignments’ requirements, and even the assignments’ deadlines. I’m just the messenger in this regard. Don’t be angry with the messenger!
  8. We get disappointed when we know our students didn’t try. Seriously, most of us are rooting for our students, and it’s a bummer when we see that they didn’t give a major assignment a good effort. One student I had simply stopped writing on page 3 of a 5-page assignment. There was no conclusion, no works cited page, nothing—just blank paper and disappointment. I felt letdown by this. He was a nice student, and I wanted him to earn the grade that he wanted. However, with that kind of assignment, I saw his goal getting increasingly further out of his reach. Ironically, the student’s essay was on procrastination.

    White Blossom 1 -- 2019
    Maybe knowing these secrets will help you to be a star student. Get it? There’s a star shape in the flower, so it corresponds to being a star student? No? Okay, it was a bad pun. I admit it. Yet, I am not ashamed. #punsforlife   Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
  9. A lot of us build in safety nets for our students. Remember how I said that teachers root for their students in my last post about the secret lives of teachers? That drive to see our students do well is why a lot of us create safety nets for students. Sometimes, these safety nets manifest as dropping the lowest quiz grade, adding extra revision opportunities, having extra credit options, etc. Whatever the form may be, these safety nets are there for when students mess up or when life hits them hard and unfairly. Sometimes, students realize this and make use of those safety nets. Other times, students don’t use them and accept the consequences to their grades. Also, there are the few times when students don’t employ those safety nets, won’t take responsibility for their grades, and then come crying or whining to the instructor to try and bargain for a higher grade. That doesn’t work, so don’t try it. It’s one of the few times that instructors are pretty much impervious to students crying. That being said . . . .
  10. We’re not completely inflexible. Like I said, sometimes life hits you squarely in the face. You try to get up from the hit, but you may stumble and need some help to get back to a standing position. Teachers know this, and instructors often respect students who communicate with them when this happens. Most teachers are not heartless, and if you’re really struggling, then they may offer you extra help or point you to some resources that can give you the help that you need.

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