You Can Lead a Worker to the Staffroom but You Can’t Make Him Drink

Friday afternoon drinks are a staple of Australian culture and probably many countries worldwide. After all, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” Obviously it’s more than just celebrating the end of the working week, it’s also about enjoying the company of your colleagues and many offices try to capitalise on this comradery and host drinks on their own grounds. They do this to encourage staff to socialise with each other to create better working environments and relationships. If they don’t host it on site they assume people won’t attend, that once they get in their car they’re more likely to drive home than drive somewhere to hang out with workmates.

Or at least that’s how I read it.

I blogged before that the younger staff in my office energise me. It’s that particular group that lead our regular expedition to the pub on a Friday afternoon and, honestly, I would much rather drink in that environment than any working one. There’s a reason people say things like, “don’t shit where you eat.” Sometimes you just need that distance. It’s not just distance from your workplace, it can also be distance from your bosses. When we’re at the pub we are completely natural. There’s no need to censor yourself because you are concerned what your superiors might think, you just act the way you want to act because you know your friends and colleagues accept you for who you are.

I love the people I work with. I love the nuances of our relationships; the teasing, the japes, the in-jokes and the storytelling. I love that I share interests with many of them – I get to geek out with the girls and talk footy with the lads.

I’ve had issues with teaching in the past. It’s never been with the students. Kids are kids, if you have a basic understanding of how they tick then you are never surprised by what they do. Adults are a different kettle of fish. The politics of teaching has bitten me in the bum too many times. But, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think about that sort of stuff when I’m around the other English staff because they make me feel safe.

They make me feel wanted.

They make me feel.

2 Contrasting Classroom Conversations

I teach a diverse bunch of students and this is reflected in the conversations I have in my classroom. In fact, one of the hardest things that I have to deal with in my teaching life is walking from one classroom to another and having to adjust my mindset to suit that particular audience. My timetable consists of year 12 ATAR, year 10 Gifted and Talented, year 7 mainstream and a year 8 academic enrichment class. As you can imagine, the topics of conversation raised by those students differ greatly. For example…

  1. Horatian vs Juvenalian satire and whether or not minorities should engage in self-deprecating humour.

This one was from today. One of my year 10 girls proposed that the light hearted nature of Horatian satire has the potential to disguise hurtful comments as humour. She said that Juvenalian satire is more abrasive but is generally directed at the majority or at authoritative figures whereas Horatian satire can easily be used against the minority. This evolved into a comment about minorities making jokes about their own otherness and how this can make other people think that these jokes are acceptable.

This was a point of interest for the girl, who also happens to be Asian, that branched from our classroom content but the depth of that discussion was not planned. In fact, the discussion itself was not on my lesson plan. The student initiated the conversation and I entertained her because I try to make a point of teaching more that my subject matter and allowing students to have (and develop) their voice.

  1. If there was a fight between teachers, who would win?

This conversation topic comes up at least once a year and was raised again on Tuesday by one of my year 8s. It’s a typical work avoidance query generally asked by one of the boys and I doubt it’s a question female teachers get asked. Sometimes I’ll entertain this sort of questioning for a few minutes as a way of building a rapport with the students – not to the point where I’m suggesting who would win but pointing out the strengths of each combatant. On Tuesday, when asked if I could beat one of the phys ed teachers, I said the fight had already taken place and the other guy had beaten me. To prove the point I pulled my sleeve up to show a large bruise on my bicep. The kids flipped. When asked if that really happened, I revealed that the bruise was footy and redirected the conversation back to the topic of study.

Both times I let the kids speak. I let them air their opinion (even if one was completely irrelevant). Both times I controlled how long the conversation went for and moved the students back onto the course content when I deemed it appropriate. What am I getting at? Too many times I see teachers put up a front that is so disparate from who they really are that the kids don’t even see them as human whereas the most effective teachers I’ve seen use their humanity as a tool to help kids progress. And, if I were still a greasy teenager, I know which teacher I’d rather have.

You’re Only as Young as the People You Surround Yourself With

I get reminders about my age on a regular basis. It seems that once you are in your thirties that age takes on an importance it never previously had. The fact that my office appears to be split between people in their late 40s and above and people in their early-mid 20s with me smack bang in the middle means that I’m consciously aware that I’m transitioning from the young person I want to think I am into the next phase of my life.

Technically, I’m well past middle aged as both my dad and my uncle passed away at 53. Following that logic, it’s no wonder I feel old sometimes (especially after footy training).

Recently, I was down in Margaret River for their Readers and Writers Festival. While there I stayed at a backpackers and on the second night there was a conversation between a couple of blokes who were saying that one of the girls appeared interested in one of them until she found out his age (28) at which point she moved on to his friend (22). It was another reminder that, for the age group I find myself surrounded by regularly, I’m now at a point in my life where my age makes me less attractive – thank goodness my wife snared me before I reached this point.

I used to consider myself ruggedly handsome. You know, like Wolverine. Admittedly I was never in Hugh Jackman’s league but my mum made a point of telling me once, “you know you’re not ugly, right?” I’ve also got a mate who says I’m aging gracefully (despite the grey that dominates my chin whenever I grow facial hair). Point is, I’m not hideous.

The only reason I mention this really is because age and beauty seem to walk hand-in-hand. If this wasn’t the case then our TV screens and magazines wouldn’t be dominated by advertisements for anti-aging creams and hair replacement treatments.

Anyway, I don’t feel old. Working alongside 20-somethings and dealing with teenagers gives me an energy reminiscent of my own youth. I’m a brat at work, a pest. I annoy people on a regular basis. Sometimes I cross the line because I get carried away in my own fun and forget about how other people might react. In the classroom the story isn’t much different. I’m a better teacher when I’m enjoying myself but I know I have to be more aware of my responsibilities as a role model. It’s great to have a laugh but it’s important to know that some things will offend others and I have to filter things before they leave my mouth. Often jokes or conversations appear fine in their context but when they are reported back you can’t help but cringe.

That doesn’t mean I tone down who I am. I can’t be a classroom Nazi, barking orders at the front of the room. It’s not in my genetic makeup.

Last week I rapped along to students tapping their pens (my improvised lyrics essentially telling them that they’d get detention if they kept tapping). I’ve worn costumes (mostly dresses, although one time I got to be Spider-man) and I’ve even danced in front of a whole school assembly.

I’m also the first one to admit that I’ve gotten carried away on occasion and I know that the teachers I wish I could be don’t muck around like I do. I’ll never escape the fact that I’m me. I was never a great student and I’ll probably never be an excellent teacher but I know I do a good job – I’ve had enough comments from ex-students to know that I’ve made a difference for a number of them.

I don’t know how long it can last. I don’t know what stage of my career it’ll be when I go from funny to creepy, from eccentric to bat-shit crazy. In the meantime, I’ll continue to siphon the essence from my younger colleagues like some kind of psychic vampire and use that to maintain my energy in the classroom.

Or something like that…