A few years into my teaching career, a friend who managed a grocery store recommended a book called Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. The premise of the book caught my attention; it hadn’t occurred to me that the layout of stores might be purposely set up—often with the help of high-priced consulting companies—to pull me in farther, keep me there longer, and make me more likely to walk out with items that I hadn’t thought I needed.
But there was an unexpected side benefit to reading the book. I kept having aha moments about how my classroom was set up. The book also contained so many cool insights that seemed worth sharing with my students, who I hoped to shape into critical thinkers and wise consumers.
This week, after months of procrastination, I finally sat down to do The Thing.
Why did it take me so long?
The same reason it’s taking you so long to do your version of The Thing:
You’ve likely heard someone say that teachers should “beg, borrow, and steal.” Another variation is that “teachers are the worst thieves.” (These suggestions are sometimes accompanied by a little laugh—maybe because teachers are presumed to be natural rule followers? Lots to unpack there, but that’s for another day.)
As with a lot of teaching advice, the basic premise of the suggestion is useful: The teachers around you have developed procedures and tricks through years of experience. There’s a good chance that one of them has found a solution to whatever problem you’re dealing with. There is no honor in reinventing the wheel.
But—also as with a lot of teaching advice—the “beg, borrow, steal” nugget only takes you so far.
If you signed up for the Disillusionment Power Pack during your first year of teaching, you already know what season it is.
The Disillusionment Phase, a term first coined by Ellen Moir as part of the Phases of First-Year Teaching, describes the drop in morale that first-year teachers experience between mid-October and Thanksgiving. This is the time frame in which new teachers are most likely to burst into tears in public, type up resignation letters “just in case,” or fantasize about breaking an ankle so they can miss a few weeks of work.
“The reason you’re waking up in the middle of the night is the second glass of wine.”
-Nora Ephron, in the essay What I Wish I’d Known from the book I Feel Bad About My Neck.
There are lots of jokes about how seemingly-wholesome activities, like teaching and parenting, can drive people to drink. Bring on the memes. Bring on the teacher movie cliches where the just-damaged-enough-to-be-unconventional teacher shows up to work hung over or stashes a bottle of tequila in a desk drawer.