It is a sad truth—teachers make the worst students. I have had this nagging, lingering, and disturbing thought ever since I became a teacher and a bad student some 45 years ago when teaching was still in its infancy.
I recently took a computer seminar at a Waterloo Apple store. I was having trouble keeping up with the class, which was composed of just my wife and me. She catches on quickly, is attentive, asks good questions, and excels at what she does. She is not a teacher.
I do not want to cast disparaging innuendo on her profession, but suffice it to say social workers see the human condition differently than the rest of us. The thesis of this, my little cathartic message, became clear to me when my Apple instructor asked me what I did. You know, for a living. Averting eye contact while mumbling and fiddling with my wireless mouse, I told him that I was a teacher. Somehow in the student role, I do not seem to possess any of the self-confident, superhero characteristics of my professional persona. In truth, I was feeling very vulnerable as if my mouse pad was a slice of Kryptonite. “Teachers, they make the worst students. They always want to know the answers right away.” His laugh almost made me feel that I was being mocked. I know a mocking tone when I hear one. I just knew at that moment that I should have told him I was a social worker, but it was too late for that.
I had to think for a moment or two about what my youthful, tech-savvy instructor had said to me, and eventually and internally I had to agree with him. Teachers make bad students. Join me in a flashback, or better still have one of your own if you don’t want to use one of mine. I was thinking about any number of conferences, seminars, lectures, guest speaker appearances, staff meetings, and committee meetings and as my professional life passed before me in a dramatic but very quick mental VHS format video loop, I could think of teachers in all of these situations doing all the same stupid things we don’t want, and never would allow, our own students to do. I have witnessed, at various times and places, teachers talking during prayer and/or announcements, laughing at jokes during meetings, texting (imagine that), marking papers, passing notes (low tech texting), and generally being inattentive at all the wrong times. Teachers are bad listeners and students.
Why is this you may ask? Why this ironic turn of events?
Theorem #1 states that because teachers have never left school and spend much of their time in discipline mode, correcting, marking, wiping noses, encouraging, motivating, putting on kid’s snowsuits, nagging, directing, lecturing, modelling, and much more, we each at some point reach a neuron saturation point in our long-term memory. Some neurons actually start to fray at the end like a worn-out piece of useless rope. In a situation in which teacher becomes student, say at a seminar or staff meeting, there is an almost spontaneous polar reversal of actions, values, attitudes and, therefore, behaviour, and we almost predictably begin to act out in bizarre ways and become like the very people we don’t want to be—our students. It is a release of pent-up emotions associated with doing one thing over a career and all of a sudden, in all the wrong places, we act out.
I would like to think that we, as teachers, are not the only professionally confused group. I can think of examples in which accountants don’t manage their personal finances efficiently, or even do their own income tax returns. Nurses and doctors, I am convinced make the worst patients. Rhetorically, I’ll just add that I would bet that off duty officers are not all paragons of virtue. For that matter, do Sarah Lee and Betty Crocker really like baked goods? Does the Michelin Man have a driver’s licence? Does the Pillsbury Dough Boy have an eating disorder? Is Uncle Ben really someone’s uncle? I could go on. Let me just say that as teachers we do not stand alone in our professional role reversal dilemma.
Theorem #2 states that, and is also predicated on the fact that, we as a profession have never been out of school our entire lives. I mean look at me. I am 70, and I am still in high school. How disturbing is that on some Freudian level? My id and ego just don’t want to have anything to do with each other anymore and it is getting serious. So the theory goes that because of this sustained time in the school system, we have never really grown up and, therefore, when given the chance, in a setting in which we have to be a student, we often fail miserably because we have never really matured on some levels and faced the real world.
Okay, those aren’t really my words, but I do know a certain social worker who fed me this idea. In fact she texted it to me while in an Apple computer class, yet another sad little irony I thought.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After retiring from teaching on several occasions, Marty Rempel is currently a principal at Metro International Secondary Academy in Toronto. During his Covid isolation, with excessive time spent on Zoom, and while gardening, he tends to speculate on educational themes. He has worked in Germany, The Bahamas, Kuwait, and China as an educator. Marty is a member of the Hotel Literati—a book club originally based out of St Mary’s High School in Kitchener, ON. Marty was a founding member and now he and the others are all old and mostly retired.
This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2022 issue.