I have no problem telling my students no. In fact, I often get an obnoxious pleasure out of it. Mostly because the questions are so ridiculous.
“Can I skip class and go home?”
“Can I sit next to my best friend?”
“Can you give us five free answers to the test?”
“Can we have a field trip to Taco Bell?”
And yet, in true oblivious teenage fashion, no matter how hard I try to ruin their fun, they still come up with new and annoying questions to ask. So I, in return, must come up with new and annoying ways to shoot them down.
“Can we have nap time?”
“When pigs fly.”
“Can you just not tell my mom about this?”
“When hell freezes over.”
“Can we skip tomorrow’s test?”
“When the crawfish whistles on a mountain.”
That last one is a little Russian idiom I stole from Wikipedia, a site second only to Google as the font of my useless knowledge and the one most frequently responsible for my raging hypocrisy. Yelling at students about not using Wikipedia as an acceptable Works Cited source, while simultaneously searching it for “correct MLA format” so I can grade their Works Cited pages? Wrong. Being able to enter keywords like “idioms for improbability” and hit a whole Wikipedia gold mine of information? Oh, so right. No wonder my students love it. But allowing them to use it as the main source for their culture project? That’ll happen…
..on the afternoon of Saint Never’s day.
And yet, despite my elegant deftness in shooting down students, I somehow, still, have not mastered that skill with my administrators.
“Hey, Teach…we’re looking for instructional leads this year. Would love it if you’d apply for that position.”
“Yeah! That sounds interesting! I’ll do it!”
“We need a class sponsor for the 10th grade. Can you take that on?” You bet I can!. “Can you mentor a teacher this year?” Sure! “Wait, make that two teachers.” Why not? “Dance chaperone?” Done. “Rewrite the teacher evaluation rubric?” Sounds like fun! Committees, department meetings, instructional workshops. Bring it on! Because a full teaching load of adolescents only keeps my stress level at “Holy shit, I’m busy!” not “What the fuck was I thinking?” which, apparently, is where I function best. Some people are in to S&M. I’m into T&AD.
Teaching and additional duties.
I’m trying to learn to say no, but I still haven’t managed it, so I’ve begun digging through my not-at-all traumatic childhood in an attempt to discover the root causes of my disorder. I’ve also joined the local chapter of Overcommitted Teachers Annoymous (OTA) which, while supportive, really just results in drinking too much beer as it’s held on Friday afternoons at the local brewery.
Multiple studies have shown that teachers who drink are 8.5 times more likely to stay in the profession just a little bit longer.
However, now almost thirteen years into the profession, I realize that while OTA and alcohol might be great for short-term stress management, they have yet to create lasting solutions for my overcommittment so I’m going to stop covering the symptoms with a stout-soaked bandaid. If I can figure out why I do what I do, perhaps I can alter my actions. Or, even help other overcommitters, as OTA membership is soaring. So, through thorough research and after much consideration, I’ve divided the OTA ranks into four main categories.
- The People Pleasers:
This is not me.
I liked to be liked, mind you. It’s generally more pleasant than being hated. But I will not do something I don’t want to do in hopes of being liked more. Nor do I particularly need to feel needed. But when a teacher runs the yearbook, coaches volleyball, serves as the department head, attends all student council events, then sighs dramatically and says, “Oh, I’m so busy but how could I ever say no? The kids/admin/department need someone to step up,” I’m calling bullshit. Of course they need someone. That does not mean they need you for all of it. And, shockingly enough, if you don’t step up, someone else will. But you don’t realize that as you’re too busy taking on additional duties to reassure yourself that you’re valuable and to try and guarantee you’ll weather the next round of budgets cuts.
Lay off it, sugar. You teach. You’re valuable. Now stop trying to convince others of that fact and go commit to something non-school related. Like yoga. Or scrapbooking. Or sitting in your underwear on the couch doing absolutely nothing.
- The Bleeding Hearts:
Contrary to the People Pleasers, the Bleeding Hearts overcommit for others rather than themselves. These are the people utterly and totally incapable of looking a wide-eyed student in the eye and saying “no.” As a result, Bleeding Hearts have a tendency to overcommit to student-centered activities even when they border on the ridiculous. “Oh, you want to start a Harry Potter themed badminton club? Why, of course you need one of those on campus, you poor, sweet, adolescent soul. Naturally that will help find your way in life and I’d be honored to be your sponsor.” One Harry Potter badminton, twenty school dances and three different lunch bunches later, you wonder just how you’re going to get you papers graded and emails answered before you have to go buy the costumes for the Thespian club’s musical rendition of an afro-cuban inspired Romeo and Juliet.
However, judging by how easy I find it to tell students, “no,” this is also not me. A big-eyed request to help you with your homework? Okay. A well-rehearsed, sincerely spoken inquiry as to if I’d be willing to sponsor the finger weaving hip-hop club? Nope. Not even tempting.
- The Perfectionists:
Apparently, this is real problem for some people. I find that rather baffling as I am notorious for blatantly ignoring the nitty gritty details, yet I have interviewed scores of teachers who suffer from crippling perfectionism.
The overcommitted Perfectionists may head up less responsibilities in number than the People Pleasers or Bleeding Hearts but they make up the difference in quantity with whacked-out attention to detail. A Perfectionist charged with keeping meeting minutes sends them out in color coded fonts, each note marked with a time stamp. Elementary school awards ceremonies are planned with greater care than celebrity weddings. A Perfectionist organizing the cookie bake fundraiser will spend so much time divvying out corners of the school gym to address gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, everything-free-I’m-really-just-living-off-air food allergies that he/she will then fret about not having sufficient time to create the hand made award certificates for each category. Never mind lesson planning.
As a note, at every OTA meeting I’ve ever attended, the Perfectionists are the heaviest drinkers. Must be a side effect of making sure that all the pens in your desk drawer are arranged by size and brand.
4. The Dorks:
These folks, frequently, are the nerds who grew up to be teachers, the kids who loved learning in school even when they were supposed to be worrying about if they would ever move up a notch from their dorkdom to slightly cooler-ness. As educators, these are the overcommitters that overcommit out of a complete inability to say “no” to their inner dork. Take on department head? Wow! That would give me more insight as to hiring works and how vertically aligning the department increases student learning! Of course I’ll do it! Participate on a committee re-evaluating the school calendar? I would find out how district priorities align with the school’s. Fascinating!
We dorks (and yes, I include myself in this category because I just spent hours of my free time writing an entire essay analyzing why teachers overcommit) just can’t quit saying yes even after we know good and well that being invited to homecoming because they need a chaperone is not going to make up for not being invited to homecoming twenty years ago. But we might learn how to use a breathalyzer to nail kids who’ve been pre-partying!
I am, down to the very atoms of my bones, an incorrigible dorkwad.
Thus, presuming that incorrigible dorkwaddery is, indeed, the root cause of my overcommitment, I attempt to work with myself as I work with my students. “Now that you have the above information, Teach, what choices are you willing to make?”
I could say no some responsibilities conscious that, even if I said yes to every one, I will still never know everything.
I could prioritize responsibilities that I am willing to take on by my level of interest in each.
I could do absolutely nothing and maintain the same insane level of activity as I have for the last decade plus.
Which is, as we all know, the most likely outcome.
I’m the co-vice president of brewery-based OTA, for crying out loud.
Somebody’s got to learn how to work a breathalyzer.