As I’m settling into my 10th year of teaching, I've noticed a few things about the profession.
I know now that if teachers are going to make it more than a couple years, they have to measure student progress over long spans of time.
Looking at daily test scores or a room of blank stares is a horribly misleading measure of human development. It's like watching corn grow when you’re getting paid to make tortillas.
Rookie teachers come in, after watching a great teacher movie like "Lean on Me," with an assumption that all a struggling school really needs is an idealistic protagonist and two hours.
During my first year teaching at my first school, I gave a quick quiz to ascertain a good starting point and came to the quick conclusion that no other teachers were doing their jobs. "These kids don’t know anything!"
Nine months later I was going to the other teachers, begging, "OK. I give up. Help me! How can I be just like you?"
I found out that when the students couldn't find a verb on the first day, it wasn't because the previous teachers hadn't taught them parts of speech.
I, myself, taught the same material over and over throughout the year, and in May I still had to put the verbs in red and white stripes and tell the kids we were playing "Where’s Waldo."
My colleagues helped me understand that all young brains are wrapped in a thick coating of Teflon. Either it must be worn down over years — usually at least 18 — or it must be scraped off with the fork of fear and the chisel of charisma.
Educators must quickly become one part bully and two parts cheerleader.
Even then, teachers with a healthy, long-term measure of success find themselves staying or leaving, based on one question: "Are the students better off with me or without me?"
To answer that, these teachers must look not only at a student's mastery of the given content, but also the moral and behavioral development of the student.
Rookie teachers inevitably panic in the first few years when they realize what hypocrites they are. They start to believe they aren’t qualified to be examples of maturity.
Rookies think, "Good golly! Did I just improv my 'Always Be Prepared for Class' speech? I’m such a loser."
I often save my "Never Procrastinate" lesson for days when I haven't prepared anything else.
So, like overweight doctors and private-jet-flying environmentalists, we have to callous our consciences from the guilt of hypocrisy. We must realize that the value of our message is too high to sacrifice for our own pride.
We are also habitual over-committers.
I'm currently coaching a soccer team, directing a play, leading a small church group, teaching a college prep curriculum (at my second school), reading a book on how to say "NO!" and, even right now, writing an article when I should be grading a stack of essays.
When my kids find me at home, it's like a celebrity sighting.
"Mom, guess who I saw today just eating like a normal person?"
"Really! Did you get him to autograph your form for school?"
"No. I didn’t want to bother him. I’m sure he gets that all the time."
I emphasize the importance of a good night's rest when I’ve gone to bed at 1 a.m. and gotten up at 6.
(Don’t judge. Many of you are reading this at work right now in a cubicle, sitting under a motivational poster.)
I tell my classes to be kind, but my favorite show on TV is "Bully Beatdown."
I train students to follow through on their commitments, yet I'm fully prepared to renege on my commitment to care for the family dog if any expense exceeds $200.
(Speaking of hypocrisy, have you ever noticed that animal rights people only want to save the cute or fun animals? And I'm pretty sure Bob Barker cleans bugs off his windshield with a clear conscience.)
I want the students to exercise to reduce stress, but the only parts of me in shape are related to stress.
Through years of frowning, I now have a six-pack on my forehead, and my jaw muscles are ripped from grinding my teeth while I sleep. I have a number of wrinkles named after the students that caused them.
Students can tell the day of the week by the degree of redness in my bloodshot eyes.
Overall, I think the kids are better off with me than without me; thus, here I am after 10 years. The goal is to keep finding better forks and chisels.
Just like parents, teachers hope to brainwash kids well enough and long enough that by the time the youngsters realize the teachers are full of bull, some of the material has made it through the Teflon and stained the child.
See, if we only teach students about the areas of life we have mastered, the world would be on fire. And how would we design a curriculum we could all agree upon?
Apparently, some fools believe that putting on the toilet paper so it unrolls from the top is morally relative.
No, educators must become fully impassioned hypocrites because society only advances on the hypocrisy of teaching each generation.
Brad Clemons lives in Columbia and is currently writing the non-fiction version of "Stand and Deliver."