I went to a teacher happy hour this weekend. Primarily because in the invitational email, the organizer threatened to punch a teenager in the face if she didn’t get some beer. Not, mind you, because she is a violent sociopath. She’s just your average mother of five trying to eek out a living by spending her days teaching literature to a hundred and eighty teenagers. Because having five children of your own isn’t nearly enough. It totally makes sense that you would want to follow the morning routine of rousing and prepping your own children for school by by rousing and prepping other people’s teenagers for college. Which assures me that even if my friend isn’t a sociopath, she’s definitely a masochist (you must be, to teach) and in a desperate attempt to save her from teenage-punching sadism, (a combo that never goes over well in education) I agreed to join her little happy hour soiree.
Naturally, though, that day her entire family came down with the stomach flu and after her husband, also a teacher, tossed his cookies at school, she was forced to abandon her mental health/drinking plans in favor of caring for ralphing family members at home.
I am proud to say, however, that despite the absence of our fearless leader, we bravely carried on, downing several pints in her honor.
Because, indeed, it is that time of year.
For teachers, the entire school year is “that time of year.” The type of stress and related coping mechanisms just depend on which “that time of year” it happens to be at the moment. Is it the August/September time of year when you’re frantically scrambling to get attendance lists that actually accurately reflect who is in your class rather than who was supposedly in your class the previous February when students signed up before really having even the vaguest idea if they would pass the prerequisite? Is it the late October time of year when you’re drowning in a sea of grading while the crazy parents that are starting to crawl out of the honeymoon-is-over cracks hold your head underwater? Or is it the February time of year when you realize that contrary to what every calendar says February is actually, hands down, the longest month of the year?
Currently? None of the above.
It’s the December time of year when revolting stomach viruses decimate the school population and both students and teachers crack under the pressure of final exams and the grading they require. Plus, of course, the end-of-semester failing students who now might not graduate high school. And, in relation, the eight hundred emails (per student) between admin, teacher, and parent about how said students might not graduate high school. All combined in a condensed calendar due to snow days/ice days/ flood days/the boiler-blew-up-and-classroom-temperatures-varied-from-32 – 130 degrees-so-we-had-to cancel-school days.
So, after being locked in small spaces together for about four and a half months now, pretending to read Shakespeare, memorizing verb conjugations and doing whatever the hell it is you do with the pythagorean theorem and all those math shenanigans, patience on all sides is beginning to wear a little thin.
“How was your day off?” I ask one of our new middle school math teachers the day after seeing a sub in his classroom.
“Adam decided to punch Sam in the face during third period,” he responded, employing the classic teacher technique of judging the quality a day off by how much shit has to be dealt with upon returning.
“And why’d he do that?”
“Because Sam’s annoying.”
Apparently, impulses are the same, whether you’re thirteen or thirty.
“Adam’s suspended. But how do I tell Sam’s parents that their son is annoying and if he doesn’t grow up he’s going to keep getting punched in the face?”
“He’s thirteen,” I told him. “His parents have been living with him for over a decade. Either they know good and well how annoying he is, or they’re of the variety that will never figure it out.”
“So what do I do?”
I plopped a jar of hand sanitizer in his hand.
“Use this religiously. Even though really, it’s not going to save you because the stomach bug is a virus, not a bacteria. But at least you’ll feel like you’re doing something useful.”
“And that relates to fighting students…?”
“It doesn’t. Here’s five bucks for that.”
“Go buy yourself a beer. Makes everything better.”
“Is that legal?”
“If you don’t drink it during school hours.”
I pat his shoulder reassuringly.
“Don’t worry. One more week and it’s over.”
“Then what happens?”
“Exactly the same, except that sometime around April the weather gets warm and students wear skimpy clothes and start making out in really awkward public places.”
“Eww.” The teacher eyeballs the bottle of hand sanitizer skeptically.
“Yeah, you’ll want to keep that for the spring mating season,” I confirm. “Except it won’t really do you any good then either, as I don’t think it takes care of cooties.”
“So you’re telling me I should drink more beer?”
“I’m just telling you not to punch a student in the face,” I tell him sincerely. “What you do in your free time is up to you.”
“Happy holidays!” I say bubbling with politically correct seasonal joy. Then I grab my stack of grading papers and head for the nearest bar.