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A Different Type of Job

In 1999 and 2000, Adidas ran a series of series of running apparel advertisements using the motto “Runners. Yeah, we’re different.” One such ad featured a naked runner, covered in mud, changing his soaked clothing outside of his car as two onlookers gaped at him from a distance. Another Adidas spot displayed a family in the car with a huge, multi-child running stroller attached to the roof. The message, of course, is that runners are much different than “average” people.

Likewise, the UFT could easily put together its own ad campaign: “Teachers. Yeah, we’re different.” Some snapshots from my first week as a fourth-year social studies teacher in the Bronx could provide some material for these commercials. To wit:

— On the first day of school, I surveyed my eighth-grade students on a variety of topics by asking for a show of hands. When I asked, “How many of you think teachers are smart?,” about three-quarters of the students raised their hands. When I followed that up by asking, “How many of you think teachers are poor?,” about nine-tenths of the hands shot up.  My intention was to show students that being educated could lead you to a prosperous life. When I saw my students’ perceptions of teachers, I could only laugh.
Teachers. Yeah, we’re different.

— As I was walking home from work on that first day, I saw several of my students from the previous school year playing basketball in the park. They called to me and I ended up shooting hoops with them for over an hour. In between points, we talked about their families, summers, and new high schools. And of course they wanted to know about my new students and whether I had yelled at anyone yet. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Teachers. Yeah, we’re different.

— At the beginning of the first week, our staff decided to focus on keeping the hallways as orderly as possible. This led to almost all teachers foregoing lunch breaks to monitor the hallways in between every period. Many of us shoved food in our mouths during these intervals. More than once, a student said to me, “I thought there’s no eating in class.”
Teachers. Yeah, we’re different.

— The second week of September was brutally hot, as usual. The air conditioners in two of our classrooms blew out the fuses. This forced me to plug my projector into the twelve-foot-high ceiling outlet. Then came the teachable moment: I gave my students a lecture on adapting to changing circumstances.
Teachers. Yeah, we’re different.

— I was at a dinner party at the end of that first week. There were six teachers from five districts, urban and suburban, at the party. There was a variety of great food and drink, and we had some rich conversations. Still, at the end of the party, I found that we kept returning to the same few topics: our schools, our lessons, and — of course — our students.
Teachers. Yeah, we’re different.

— As I look back on the night before school started, I realize that I was like a little kid on Christmas Eve. I could not wait to use the materials I got while participating in a Teaching American History grant program over the summer. Among those were an Abraham Lincoln timeline poster, a glossy copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, and a visualization of the 15th Amendment. I could not wait to begin a Civil War unit with my new students.

Am I a nerd? I suppose.

But, hey, I’m a teacher. And, yeah…I’m different.

Terrence Ridge is the pseudonym of a fourth-year middle school teacher in the Bronx. If you’re interested in writing a New Teacher Diary entry for Edwize, send an email to edwize@uft.org.