Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Give us this day our daily dread...

Surely even the most diligent and noble-minded of teachers has found himself muttering this incantation on many a gloomy Monday morning of the soul. Especially on those days when one feels not only like an imposter, which is a benign sort of benediction, for who among us does not feel like a fraud at carefully staged points in one's life? No, the shame comes not from the certainty that one is wearing a mask that all will recognize as little more than a novelty-store goof, but from the fact that one is not succeeding even as a charlatan, that we cannot fake it as well as we used to, that the jig is up, that they are all on to us and none too happy to boot.

For if we were honest imposters, master fakers, the students sitting before us behind foldable desks would wear eager grins of anxious, almost sweaty anticipation -- for who does not love a carefully staged con, even when in on the facade? (As every magician could testify.) What the teacher fears most is not failure but success. If we succeed all too well today, then tomorrow more will be expected of us. The magician will not only be asked to extend his run, but the same customers will come back for show after show, until they slowly, almost surprisingly start to realize that there is nothing left to discover, and discounts are not within the realm of access. No money back for this particular show, ladies and gents. You have seen all there is too see, the Wizard of Oz has been revealed as the red-faced fraud behind the tacticle curtain which is the cough-drop green of the chalkboard, and guess what? Another half-semester remains! Please watch the steps on your way out the door.

An unnatural occupation, one would think, despite the fact that Socrates and his ilk practiced such an art mere millienia ago. A not-so-distant past, in the grand arc of time, so certain traditions, modus operandi, or, at the very least, schemes, should have been passed down for us plebes to copy and mimic.

But every day starts anew. You build the trust from the afternoon before, brick by brick, hoping it holds, and then mold it in place once again from today's first bell, even though the foundation itself is already looking shaky, ready to topple. The buzz of phones and the smack of gum against unbrushed teeth and the glazed eyes that are testimony to a night spent staring at a colgate-white screen are the landmines that await your every step.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

How often those explosives ignite around the edges of our lessons! Flecks of jagged metal slicing only ourselves, never the students, who wander aimlessly across the battlefield, oblivious to the carnage being inflicted upon their captain!

Even Mr.Kotter, that most illustrious alumni of the Sweathogs, must have felt literally at war with the motley sitcom morons that populated his sitcom class. They welcomed him back but loved him in return, with the kind of earnest, witty love that only twenty-two minute bursts of fictional sideswipes can spew forth. I could live inside the goodwill of that classroom, I sometimes think. The Sweathogs would see me as one of their own. I could lead them to a higher place, perhaps even a one-hour drama, should all work out.

And should my most earnest efforts fail, Howard Hesseman, always standing so firm and wise in his middle-aged mullet at the head of the class, would certainly welcome me into his fictional world, would he not? A class full of wisecracking geniuses, ready to rumble? I could handle such a group. I could be the student teacher who fumbles his way hilariously up the big-time world of homeroom teacher. A possible spin-off after two, three seasons. My own Al Gore, waiting patiently in the wings, to Hesseman's grander, more genial Bill Clinton. I think I have it in me.

Mere fantasies, I know.

For now, I must make do with where I am and what I have.

The dread is always there, at the bottom of my stomach, unseen mud beneath the surface of the puddle.

And yet, at certain moments -- rare, but there -- the cell phones go silent, the gum stops snapping, the teeth seem whiter, and the pupils of the pupils grow wide, almost against their will, as if they've suddenly seen something, if not enchanting, at least intriguing.