High School Horror


Being an unemployed academic, I am frequently asked if I would consider teaching high school.

Would I?

It’s an awesome time to be a teacher. What I really want is people picketing in my face, telling me that I’m an overpaid babysitter. I want to teach a bunch of brats in Wisconsin, where not only will my bargaining rights be taken away, but I will also be threatened by the National Guard coming in to beat me down if I dare show my discontent. I want to be a teacher in Providence, Rhode Island, so I can be sent a termination notice along with all 1,925 of my colleagues. I want to be in this crowd justifying my salary of $30 or $40K for working my butt off at school teaching kids, then coming home and working my butt off grading their papers and preparing for my classes after my own kids go to bed. It looks great:

In fact, I think the real reason that I don’t want to be a high school teacher is that I only have 2 models of high school in my mind (leaving aside Glee, because I find it just a wee bit unrealistic that the popular girls never change out of their cheerleading uniforms, nobody gets in trouble for slushie-throwing, and the productions the students put on are often off-Broadway, if not quite, Broadway quality) (other than that, of course, the show is very true to life).

Perhaps it’s unfair to base one’s decision on 2 models, but that’s what I have. And neither is particularly appealing.

The first model I have is my own high school: mostly smart, mostly hard-working students who were spoiled and entitled and needed to get into med school after undergrad and were already racking up the points, kissing the right asses, and, if it came to it, whining, cajoling, and demanding the grades that would set them on the path to success.


To encourage the students’ competitive behavior, the guidance counselor left a list on his desk of all the students in the graduating class in order of achievement. That way, Chaim 3.98 could walk in, see that Yitzi 3.99 was ahead of him, and he could go harass his teacher to bump up his grade in Tanach from an A to an A+, promising to memorize the next five parashat hashavuas or bring his dad, a world-renowned rabbi, to the class for a shiur. Sara 3.975 would know exactly who she would have to accuse of trying to steal her answers on her Calculus exam, and Tova 3.4, in a panic, would spend hours trying to come up with the best excuse (sick grandmother? dead grandmother? dead grandmother in Israel?) for missing a week of school and failing to hand in her book report.

I have another model. For 30 years, my mother taught at a high school. Her students were adults, newly come to Canada, and the program was funded by the government. They came to my mother as to a mentor. She was Mrs. Canada to them–the lady who did the meet-and-greet at the door of the True North Strong and Free. She taught them our language, our customs, our habits, and from the time they entered her classroom until the end of their days, they thanked her, sent her Christmas cards, sent her pictures of their children.

On the 31st year, the government cut all the funding for adult education. Suddenly, my mother was teaching teenagers. Suddenly, she realized all the years she had been sheltered from the horror of high school, she had been right in the midst of it–she was teaching in an inner city school. The “real” students of the school were now her students.

And here’s what they said:

“Miss,” they would say (they all called her ‘Miss’), “Miss, I don’t have my piece with me now. But you just wait, Miss. Tomorrow I’m going to come back and I’m going to bring my piece with me. Just you wait, Miss.”

And variations on that.

On year 31.5, my mother decided it was time to retire. She had put in her time.

Teach high school?

Sounds like a blast. Sign me up.



5 responses »

  1. Good for you! If the parents who refuse to pay taxes so the teachers of their kids can have a livable wage actually had to spend time with their teenaged offspring, there wouldn’t be demonstrations in Wisconsin.

    Being a high-school teacher is not the only job out there for someone with an advanced humanities degree. Steer clear. They’re just trying to trick you, or they’ve been watching too much “Glee.”

  2. On the other hand, a good grad school friend of mine teaches H.S. now and finds it really satisfying – and in some senses easier than the nastiness of teaching at a community college or lower-tier college w/a nonsensical teaching load AND research expectations. Like most things…it all depends, right? On the school, basically, and the colleagues, and oh yeah, the students?

    • I do know h.s. teachers who love their jobs. I also had h.s. teachers who were fantastic. There is this beautiful school called the Hackley that I used to pass in Westchester all the time–I somehow imagined would be dreamy to teach at (or send my kids to!).

  3. Pingback: Dear Airline (Hotel, Cruise Line, Restaurant . . . ): I am SHOCKED and APPALLED! « The Poor Princess Diaries

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