As a new school year gets under way, teachers awaken from summertime fantasies to confront reality once again -- reams of papers to correct, hassles over grades and the anticipation of such invigorating intellectual activities as restroom monitoring and lunch duty.
It's time for teachers to practice a little pre-season psyching up . It's not all that bad, we tell ourselves: There'll be kids who actually appreciate Dickinson; surely we'll coax a gripping essay out of one student deemed illiterate by parents, peers and past teachers. And we'll learn, yet again, that although a 15-year-old dips snuff, chews tobacco and never changes his T-shirt, he actually comes from a fine family that's also perplexed by his behavior.
As part of my annual self-psych, I make a list of personal objectives; perhaps some fellow pedagogues will find them helpful too:
* Be a role model. Even students who make punk-rockers look conservative by comparison want, deep down, to emulate the teacher. So I'll shave every day, keep my shoes polished and won't lapse into street talk (too often), secure in the knowledge that I'll be helping to build a clean-shaven, clean-shoed and clean-mouthed society.
* Don't be sarcastic (at least for the first week). Students either love teachers who are sarcastic in the first week or they hate them. If they love them, too bad for the teachers -- sarcasm-loving students spend the first few days slinging barbs straight out of "Welcome Back Kotter." If they hate sarcastic teachers, that's bad, too, because the students clam up, fearing the sting of teacher's tongue. But after the first week anything goes: By then they've decided to love, hate or ignore you anyway.
* Don't talk about the past (too often). JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam, Mickey Mantle, Woodstock, Bob Dylan and hippies -- no matter how pivotal to my life and yours -- are all part of history to today's students, and require drawn-out, boredom-inducing explanations. But a little informal chatting about these recent chapters in history may actually whet their interest.
* Attend at least one sporting event. There's a pleasant irony in watching the controlled violence and energy on the field and contrasting it with the total chaos in the stands.
* Volunteer to chaperone at least one dance. This is more stressful than attending an athletic event because a chaperone is more participant than spectator. Crowd control, "controlled-substance" control and self-control are all involved. Students also like to see chaperones dance -- humorous for them, humbling for me.
* Improve communication with administrators. Remember: Spur-of-the-moment meetings called by administrators are essential to the smooth operation of the school. The paperwork that administrators shove off on teachers is essential to their jobs. Such catch-all phrases as "Let's touch base," "Is this relevant?" and "We must be flexible" are essential to the political function of the administrators' jobs. And their annual classroom evaluation of me is essential to my job.
* Don't take school-related problems home. There's no reason to feel I should discipline my own children harshly just to make up for the lack of discipline I see in some students. Likewise, there's no reason to suffer an identity crisis when something unflattering about me or my ancestors is etched into a desk top for posterity.
* Don't get upset over cafeteria food, the teachers' lounge, PA announcements, lack of chalk, faulty audio- visual equipment, students' vocabulary or students who sleep during class. Everyone grows by learning how to cope.
* Have all papers checked, graded and returned to students within 24 hours. Everyone should have at least one totally unrealistic goal.