As is often the case, there is a need to clarify a couple of points.
In the last few months, since I started living with him, John has been slowly acclimating me to his social circle – Introducing me to friends and family, etc. It’s been a blast for the most part, because none of these people have attempted to pass judgment on me. They accept and appreciate what they’ve seen and have not tried to “improve” or change anything.
It’s also important to understand that I have nothing against teachers. John Hughes said it best in The Breakfast Club. Some people get into teaching thinking it’s going to be fun, then they realize there’s actual work involved and they take it out on the students. A few of the teachers I have had fit this profile perfectly, others not so much.
It has to take a special person to sit at that desk, year after year, knowing that the majority of your meager salary is going towards the materials you use to try and point an entire group of students in the right direction. All the while, unrealistic expectations are placed on you by demanding parents, societal pressure, and government standards. To commit to that job for as long as I personally know some teachers have, you would have to believe that they love what they do because there are better paying professions. Professions that don’t invoke ignorant misconceptions at social gatherings, for example.
In my experience, there are three types of teacher. There’s the teacher who knows what she is getting into and accepts all the challenges that come with it, because she knows her job is necessary to society whether it wants to believe that or not. There’s the teacher who thinks it will be fun, finds out it’s going to be harder than he imagined, but he’s too far in now and there’s student loans to pay off on top of the rent, car payments, and all of the other financial trappings, so what the hell let’s develop a new style of math and really take it out on society. The woman I am about to write about is the third type.
The sad thing is, you can find this type of person in any profession. They are not interested in helping people or teaching. They don’t care what you, the student, actually wants from life because listening to you would be distracting them from their own selfish goals. These are the teachers with an “I Touch the Future” Mentality.
I’m going to call this woman Ms. Peacock. Because we all know a teacher like Ms. Peacock.
Ms. Peacock came by the house the other day, on what I believed to be a social call. Because I live in John’s home, I want to make sure that I am always amiable and courteous to any guests that he invites to the house. He has been good about announcing the arrival of guests plenty of time in advance for me to decide if this is going to be difficult, so that I can vacate the premises for an errand or a walk around the block.
Because I had met Ms. Peacock once before and the encounter was pleasant, I didn’t have a reason to believe that this second encounter would be any different. Boy, did I misjudge that one.
I was sitting there, in the living room, smiling politely and listening while John and Ms. Peacock conversed. The conversation between John and Ms. Peacock was fairly innocent and I made my noncommittal responses in the interests of being polite. Admittedly, my own guard was down, which is why the sudden change in tone surprised me.
“Sometimes I would ask my students what they would do with forty-eight hours,” Ms. Peacock said, glancing in my direction. “They don’t have to do that same thing in the entire forty-eight hours, they could do one thing for ten hours and then move on to something else. But what would you do with forty-eight hours if you could be paid for it.”
“Oh,” I said, after a minute of silence. “Were you talking to me? Uh, honestly I don’t know.”
Apparently that wasn’t good enough. Ms. Peacock kept pressing me for a response. Finally, I gave in and said,
“Well, I guess I’m trying to work on this short story. The goal is to submit it to this writer’s group for critique and hopefully, eventually, get it published.” Again, thinking this was just a casual conversation, I proceeded to tell Ms. Peacock how I don’t like to submit my work to the Internet anymore, because of the sometimes annoying and egotistical comments I get that have nothing to do with helping me improve the story or get published.
“I used to get a lot of students who do the same thing,” Peacock said, with a nod. “If I put the wrong date up, or made a mistake, they would pounce on it.”
I’ve been a victim of this tactic so often, that looking back, I should have seen it coming. It’s the mental chess move I like to call “rapport”. Find a common ground with your opponent so you can bring their defenses down even further by making them believe that you are definitely on the same page. Then,
“What I think you should do, is make a list,” Peacock continued. “From A to Z, list all of the things you know you’re good at. Then you should be able to figure out what it is you want to do.”
Again, I couldn’t help but feel a small amount of incredulity. I know that I have been unemployed for a while and I haven’t done anything to conceal this fact from John’s friends because no one has given me a reason to feel like I should be on the defensive. No one has attempted to “advise” me, probably because I did not hand out invitations to do so at any point.
“Um, well, like I said I’ve been working on this short story. I haven’t been as focused on my writing as I used to and I’m just trying to put my effort into this project. I also have a blog that I’ve been working on.”
“Oh, so you like to write?” Peacock replied, as if this were a huge revelation.
To quote Charles Babbage, “I am not able to rightly comprehend the confusion that would lead to such a question.”
Was the clue that I “Like to write” in the fact that I mentioned writing a short story, writing a blog, or that I haven’t been as focused on my writing as I was before? These are all conclusions that anyone who was actually listening to me might have come to, but again, Ms. Peacock was not listening.
“Well, you know there are a lot of people who publish online,” she said. “I know someone who publishes books on Amazon.com and she really makes money from it. You could do the same thing.”
“Hehe,” I gritted my teeth. John was clearly uncomfortable with the direction this was heading, so I tried to keep my response as short and to the point possible. “Yeah, right now there’s a lot of animosity towards Amazon. The thing is that I really don’t want to publish online because anyone can do that now. My goal is to have my work published in ink and paper through any company that is not a vanity press, like maybe a magazine.”
Now, in polite conversation, my reasonable response should have been the end of the matter. If Ms. Peacock was paying attention to my body language, or to the unpleasant atmosphere that she was creating, she might have changed the subject. Perhaps turned to John and asked him about his E-bay listings. Again, this was not a polite conversation. This was Ms. Peacock’s personal goal of trying to capture and time my wild child nature, so she could mold it into a force for good and later on, take credit for whatever success I enjoyed as a result of her prodding.
“Maybe a few different part time jobs would be good for you,” she continued. “Some people aren’t happy with just one job. I had a former student who now spends his time doing one job and then goes on to something else.”
Right. Because finding one job isn’t hard enough, fucking Annie Sullivan here thinks it’s that easy to find a job that won’t expect me to be devoted to them 24/7. I wonder if she knows that when a place says that they’re hiring and says, “Flexible schedule” that you are the one who has to be flexible for them, not the other way around.
The end of the conversation couldn’t come soon enough. But not before Ms. Peacock assured me that she has a number of “career assessments” available to her and that she is willing to schedule some time with me to take those tests and determine what sort of jobs would be best for me. John sensed my growing irritation with Ms. Peacock and ushered her out of the house as quickly as etiquette would allow, leaving me to fume and to rethink my relationship with this woman.
I didn’t take long to rethink it. I desire no more contact with this person. Here’s why.
Ms. Peacock probably meant well. She probably didn’t intend to come off as smug or rude, but in many ways, that makes it worse. Because this is a person who thinks she is being helpful and is either unaware or insensitive to the fact that she might make someone uncomfortable, or outright offend them.
Who is she? She is someone I’ve met twice in my 32 year lifespan. She is not my mother, or grandmother, or any relative that has been a part of my life since the beginning. She is a retired teacher, but she is not my teacher. She is not a therapist. More to the point, she is not someone from whom I sought advice nor approval.
I bet Ms. Peacock was a brilliant teacher. I’m sure there are students who remember her fondly and would sing her praises from the rooftops on Teacher Appreciation Day and she should be proud of herself for choosing a career that she can say she’s happy with. But she overstepped her bounds with me, not only by presuming to enter and take charge of my life, but by doing so in the one place that I should have been able to feel safe and free from scrutiny.
John did not invite her to do this. His intention was to show her the changes he made around the house. Ms. Peacock took it upon herself to shove her “Simple Solutions” down my throat. Did she really believe that I have been wandering through life, waiting for someone like her to ride in on silver stallion and bring me to salvation?
My advice to you, Ms. Peacock, is to come out of retirement. If your ego is so starving that you still need to seek fulfillment in helping to “improve” someone’s life, then I’m sure there are plenty of people who want your attention.
I am not that one of them.