I believe that if you take yourself too seriously, others won’t take you seriously at all. That is a bold statement to take about teachers. Many teachers suffer from the “too seriously” bug. They know that their job is pivotal to the success of a community, state, and country. We are on the front lines of making a better world. Our work is serious and it is hard. I don’t have much use for those people that don’t understand our role in democracy. The best example I have of people taking themselves too seriously was while writing the science curricula for the school district. We were doing a unit on astronomy for the primary grades. It was focused on first and second grade. One of the parts of writing was to train the teachers during in-service days. We had spent months writing this and we were proud. My partner in crime for this was Mark Rodie who was a 2nd-grade teacher at Dalton and went on to be a very successful principal. He and I both had a sense of humor and whimsy. We thought it would be cool to have folks engulfed in the aura of astronomy. So true to the times, we made a mix tape. We found every song we could think of that might apply.
From “Aquarius” to “In the year 2525” and everything in between. The tape was over an hour long and we played it as people came in. We also had a small table of bagels, orange juice, and coffee. One of the things that happen at teacher in-services is that we all turn into middle school students. We don’t talk often so when we are together we discuss the state of our schools, teaching, and the district. Even when we are supposed to be working we still talk. So Mark and I thought we would honor that and give them about half an hour to mingle reconnect and have the music in the background. In our defense, we were just trying to make a long day more fun and a happy event instead of drudgery. That was our first mistake. The questions that followed were reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition.
- What time were we supposed to be here?
- Why are we not starting exactly on time?
- Who is paying for the food? I know I am not!
- What brand of coffee is this? (A standard pot because this was before Starbucks.)
- What is the agenda for this first part?
- What is the music for?
- Do I have a copy of the tape in my kit?
- Do we have to test the kids on the songs?
- What if I don’t know the songs?
- Why are we using music? Don’t they have specials at your school?
- Did they have tape players in the kits?
- Who decided on the music?
- Is the music appropriate for 6-year-olds?
- What if my administrator walks in and there is music playing in my classroom instead of Science?
- Does this count as interdisciplinary teaching?
- How much time do we devote to the music?
The good news is that I left out the most outrageous questions. The bad news is that they went on all day. After this onslaught of questions, Mark and I decided to just start the training and suppress any urge to smile or have fun. It was one of the worst in-services I gave because there was absolutely no room for joy, fun, or happiness. These people took everything so seriously that it was impossible to explain that we just wanted time to connect, have a little bite to eat, and enjoy the music that was a part of our lives. We spent the next three hours doing just the explanation and with no extensions or anything that might bring joy into their classrooms. Mark and I decided to finish early because we had hit the highlights and gave them a sense of the unit. We finished half an hour before our time was over and the first sound I heard upon dismissing them was: “Now what do we do, just sit here until 3?” Interestingly the post-in-service feast included chips, salsa, and a margarita!