The misunderstandings of teachers in their dotage


When I was in school, we had a group of teachers who most of us thought must be at least 90 years old. I mean, they seemed ancient to us. This lasted through our entire school career.

Many of the teachers in this group would exhibit strange behavior at times.  

There was one teacher who used to scratch the inside of his ear with his keys.  Another teacher sat down or stood near the door during playground duty. We had teachers who seemed to be crabby at everything we did. Once when I was asked to read a passage from the science book, our 103-year-old science teacher snapped at me that I wasn’t turning pages fast enough.

More often than not, a teacher would reprimand us for making a comment or noise in class, when we were clearly minding our own business and not making a peep. In fact, many of us noticed we were scolded or reprimanded by elderly teachers for imaginary offenses.  Some of them apologized for the misunderstanding and some did not.

One of the greatest things that has happened to me in my teaching career is the year-by-year increase and understanding of children. I seem to love children a little more with each passing year, and I am able to understand them better.  Things that used to bother me so are now things I don’t even bat an eye at anymore. I find humor in the way kids operate, and I appreciate even the gigantic stinkers that walk through my door each day.

But I will confess to you there are days when little things get on my nerves.  It isn’t the kids’ fault.  It’s mostly all the other stuff.  

I lose patience when I’m asked to prove how hard I’m working or justify why I’m choosing a certain method of teaching.  This is not due to any edict from my administrators; it’s mostly stuff they are asked to do by the upper echelon.  

It seems there are people in government who think teachers aren’t working hard enough, expecting us to cover the patooties of the families that aren’t doing their jobs. 

We are asked to do “character education” these days and spend time teaching manners and how to get along with one another.  On top of that, we write and rewrite goals and objectives until we are blue in the face.  

Once in a while, I’d like to be able to say “Yes, I followed my gut. I’ve been at this job for 32 years.” And then in my fantasy world, the powers that be would say “Oh, OK. He knows what he’s talking about.”

So, I think I relate a little when I remember older teachers that taught me, and indeed, the older teachers I taught with when I was young and stupid.

When they all said things like “That’s a waste of time” and “Here we go again,” I just thought they were older and crabby.

I never knew how wise they were.

There have been plenty of times I wished it was socially acceptable to bring a lawn chair to Field Day or playground duty. I’ve thought how nice it would be to have a golf cart or one of those two-wheeled stand-up things to jet around the hallways. I haven’t gotten out of breath yet, but my feet hurt like the dickens sometimes.

My high school government teacher once started chastising me for something I wasn’t doing. I was sitting, listening intently to her lecture, when suddenly she said “Yes, Mark.  I heard your smart aleck comment and so did everyone else.”  

I had said nothing.   

My friend next to me shrugged his shoulders and said, “You know she’s like 88. Don’t worry about it.”

Not to be misunderstood, I hung around after class and pleaded my case.  “I was not talking back there when you said I made a comment.”

“Nice try. Everyone heard you and I have plenty of witnesses.”  She was not backing down. So, I left dejectedly, deciding not to make anymore of it.

The other day, I asked my students three times who was making a certain noise. Finally I said, “Billy, is that you?” Billy (names have been changed to protect the innocent) and the rest of the class looked dumbfounded.

“Mr. Tullis, I think someone is drilling or something outside.” Sure enough, after one brave student told me this, I realized it was true.  Should I stick my head out the window and tell the maintenance guys to knock it off? 

“Boys and girls, please forgive me,” I croaked out.  

My students were gracious to me. They smiled.

I’m wondering if any of them would even notice if I started scratching my ears with my keys?

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