September 2005

Better than the Golden Rule

By David Feela

When I moved from Minnesota over 20 years ago to teach in the Cortez school system, I hoped my college had trained me adequately for the job of inspiring the youth of this community. After all, I had studied the classics, grammar, reading, writing, psychology, and public communication. I thought I was prepared. What I didn’t realize at the time was how little I knew about teaching.

Anyone can learn, but not everyone can teach. One spring toward the end of my first year of teaching, a neighbor pounded on the door of my trailer in the middle of the night. He pointed toward my truck.

“I heard some noises but by the time I came out, they disappeared,” he whispered, as if someone might still be listening. “You better call the police.” Slippered and sleepy, I went out to my truck. Three of my four tires had been slashed. They were flat as frybread. I went back inside and called the police. A patrol car showed up in 10 minutes and an officer examined the scene. No other vehicle in the trailer court had reported or received any damage. My truck wasn’t the victim of an act of random violence; I had been singled out. I was being taught a lesson. The police officer filled out a report and I signed it. Through the window I watched as he slowly drove around the trailer court with his spotlight. I went back to bed, a little depressed, a little angry. Nothing could be done until morning. And by morning all I could do was laugh, because during the wee hours, after the police had left, the person responsible for slashing three of my tires had come back to slash the fourth. I stood in the driveway and marveled at my first teaching success: I had inspired at least one of my students to complete his work.

Since that first year I have learned how to laugh more often. Really, I had no choice. I’m surprised my college professors didn’t study laughter, and I’m astounded that competency exams for prospective teachers and standardsbased testing for students have managed to take themselves so seriously. I thought about asking my teaching colleagues this spring if they could identify some aspect of their professional experience where standardbased performance outcomes could be readily translated into life experiences. Then I changed my mind and asked if they could offer any fresh perspectives on the Jeff Foxworthy redneck jokes from their years of experience in the classroom. Here’s what I got.

You might be a teacher if:

  • In public places you glare at a misbehaving child instead of looking away like every other bystander.
  • You can’t afford to send your own kids to college but you’ve helped hundreds of other students get there.
  • You’re always mentally taking attendance at social functions.
  • You correct the grammar on a letter from your mother.
  • You’ve been turned down for jury duty because both lawyers, the plaintiff, defendant, and judge were all ex-students.
  • Your taxes help pay your salary.
  • You get your first actual cost-of-living raise after you retire.
  • You go to garage sales for school supplies.
  • You know at least seven ways to misspell an easy name like Kathy.
  • Your glasses are thicker than your wallet.
  • Your idea of foreplay is a full stapler and a fresh bottle of white-out.
  • Over 15 percent of your vocabulary is made up of acronyms.
  • You leave the house and ask yourself, Did I leave no child behind?
  • You’re still reading this.

Summer’s over; school’s in session. Be careful at crosswalks and laugh when you get the chance. It’s your homework, for the rest of the year.

David Feela teaches English at Montezuma-Cortez High School.