Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Got Skills

During my typical family gathering on Christmas Eve this year, a long-buried tradition was resurrected: the game of charades.  After I had acted out my charade and had it successfully guessed by my team, a couple family members immediately remarked how good I was at the game.  I humbly chalked it up to my years of experience playing with the family years ago, but someone had a better explanation: 

"She's a teacher!"

While I would have preferred, "She's a pantomiming genius!", I knew this person was on to something. There are some things I was born with a natural propensity towards, but there is also another set of skills that have been honed quite unintentionally and without any concerted effort as a result of living my life as an educator day-in and day-out. 

 For better or worse, here are the top 4 teaching habits that have translated into semi-useless daily life skills:

1. Multitasking

It isn't unusual, any given day, to find me writing a pass for someone while giving a lecture to a student about his lack of homework completion, all the while ensuring the rest of the class isn't swinging from the rafters.  Accomplishing multiple tasks simultaneously is a necessity when dealing with children, and it's a hard habit to lose once at home.  If I'm watching television, there's probably some other productive activity going on like online shopping or painting my nails.  I've started a new competition with myself in the mornings during the approximately 35 seconds it takes for the coffee to pour from my Keurig to see how much I can accomplish by way of packing a lunch and making breakfast.  It's a pretty worthless aspiration that only buys me a couple more minutes a day, but don't worry. I won't be taking it to the extreme like the people who brush their teeth in the shower.


2. Flying by the seat of my pants

I'm almost ashamed to admit how little long term preparation goes into the units and lessons I teach, but it comes with the territory of being a special education teacher.  Sometimes, I don't find out the regular ed. teachers' plans until mere periods before I have to teach. Sometimes, half my class is gone or the students are being such psychotic hosebeasts that I have to scrap my plans.  Sometimes, I'm an idiot and plan an instructional lesson the last day before Christmas break and then I get a clue about 30 minutes prior to the class and have to scramble for a fun-yet-educational holiday themed activity. 

Though it flies in the face of everything I ever learned in teacher prep, and it's not going to score me a Golden Apple Award, teaching on the fly has become somewhat of an art for me, and I'm darn proud of the ability. Also, it is another skill that has followed me into the rest of daily life.  I'll never forget a few years ago when my small group was volunteering at a church-based after school program.  Some of us were relegated to cooking dinner in the kitchen, or setting up equipment for games, but I was assigned to the bible lesson session.  Figuring I would just be helping with some good old bible crafts, I was pretty astounded when a kids bible was shoved in my hand and I was told I'd be teaching the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector.  There were probably a few short seconds of panic, but as any teacher knows there's no room for panic when you have a class full of children staring up at you expectantly.  I threw that kids bible open, sped read through Luke 19 in 20 seconds flat and delivered that lesson without a hiccup.  

3.  E-mailing Expert

I probably average 10 e-mails a day at work to parents and colleagues.  One of my neuroses in life is the inability to let an e-mail go unanswered for more than even a couple hours when I know there is someone awaiting my response, but that is complicated by the necessity to tend to my students for 90% of the day.  So how do I reconcile the two?  I Super E-mail.  Using my previously acquired typing skills, I roll out itemized, multi-paragraphed messages free of grammatical and spelling errors and goodness gracious are they well worded! (Okay, I'm really tooting my own horn here, but I'm talking about my e-mailing skills. I think we can both admit it's pretty pathetic).  I've gotten so good at professional e-mails that I tend to all but black out when writing them.  Many times I have to check my "Sent" box to confirm that I composed the intended response, and occasionally I'm quite surprised at the content as if I'm seeing what I wrote for the first time.

4.  Yelling at other people's kids 

Whether it's the community pool or the Sunday school halls at church, when I come across unsupervised children acting like screecher monkeys , the need to behavior manage is ingrained in me.  I was recently at a Starbucks waiting for someone when it was overtaken by about 8 high school boys who proceeded to all attempt to pile onto one seat, wrestle each other, and whoop and scream at the top of their lungs.  My eyes went from huge saucers of disbelief to narrow slits of loathing as I resisted the urge to give them a lecture on human decency and consideration.  It was when I looked around the rest of the place to find no one else bothered (in fact, one older man who was in danger of being crushed by the pile of teenagers was actually amused) that I decided it was time to put away the ruler and let kids be kids.  Still, if ever there's a band of young hooligans in need of silencing, I'm ready to come swooping in with a loud voice, bleeding sarcasm, and a mean stink eye. 

And there you have it.  Not exactly the items I want listed under my legacy as a teacher at my retirement dinner in 2040, but one day you just may be in dire need of a super e-mailing, multi-tasking, improvising disciplinarian, and you will thank me. Just maybe. 

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