Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Power-Walking of the Teachers/ Sisyphus at the School Dance

(Napoleon Dynamite is showing the proper way for high schoolers to dance.)

Before the students arrive at school on their first day, the teachers have already been there for at least a week. During the week before school, we educators plan for the coming year, discuss new policies, prepare our classrooms, and most importantly, sign up for our adjunct duties. Part of our job throughout the school year is to work at no less than four after-school events. So, near the end of our work week, the school secretaries or the athletic director will mention casually at the end of a meeting that the adjunct duties sign-up list is ready.

At this cue, every teacher in the room stiffens. Nostrils twitch. Eyes glance from side to side. We begin breathing heavier and our heart rates increase. A moment after that, we smile nervously at one another and try to look nonchalant as we carefully gather our things and begin slowly moving out of the building where our meeting was held towards the building where the sign-ups are located. We are restraining our urge to leave the group behind and run for it. Once the teachers hit the fresh air outside, things change, and we, this group of highly professional educators, quickly transform into something I like to think of as, “The Power-walking of the Teachers.”

Teachers who will never move at more than a snail’s pace throughout the rest of the year, suddenly become swift like badgers and they begin shaking their fannies and pumping their arms back and forth like that evil cop in the Terminator movies as they make their way to the crucial sign-up list. I have never seen a teacher trip another on their way to the office, but I bet it’s happened.

Woe to you if you stop to talk to your Department Chair. Woe to you if you go back to your classroom to get your keys. Because if you do these things, you will lose the power-walking race, and you will end up at the back of a very agitated line with the rest of the slow teachers. By the time you get to the front desk, all of the easy, safe, adjunct duties will be taken. The band concerts, the basketball games, and the school play: these are all easy jobs. They might even be fun, but if you end up at the back of the line, you will probably get stuck with dance duty.

During my first year, a more experienced teacher advised me. She said, “Never, ever work at a dance if you can help it. You may not be able to get to the front of the line, some of these teachers are pretty fast. But if you possibly can, try to sign up while there are still football games left on the list.” This year, unfortunately, I stopped to talk to the other teachers in the English Department. They wanted to talk about something like assessments or teaching reading or something trivial like that.

As we talked, I kept trying to end the conversation as I darted glances at the other teachers leaving in a mass exodus like some sort of bizarre version of “The Amazing Race.” But by the time we got done talking and we had made our way down to the administration office, it was too late. So far this year, I have worked at two dances. It is difficult to even begin to describe the soul-weary drudgery of chaperoning a high school dance.

It is sort of like being Sisyphus, that dead Greek guy who has to continually roll a boulder up a hill. Just when he gets to the top, the boulder rolls back down and he has to roll it up back. According to the story, he is doomed to repeat this for all eternity. School dances are sort of like that. The D.J. always plays sexy music, the lights are always turned down low, and the girl’s dresses are usually provocative. However, I, as a teacher, am somehow supposed to stop these scantily-clad, hormone-raging, teenagers from “freak dancing” while the song, “Tap, it, Baby,” or possibly, “My Lovely Lady Hump,” plays so loudly that the speakers are bouncing off the floor.

I am not easily daunted, however. I bring a hefty flashlight to every dance and valiantly make an effort to keep the students in some modicum of respectability. I have worked out an elaborate system to let students know that their behavior is inappropriate. First, I shine the flashlight directly into their eyes. The music is so loud that this is the only way to get their attention. It also makes them extremely irritated. Then I usually yell something about keeping their hands where they belong. The couple will then look at me, with a wounded, innocent expression on their little faces. With big eyes, they say, “Us? We weren’t doing anything wrong!” Then as soon as my back is turned they go back to freak dancing.

Like Sisyphus, I tap them on the shoulders again and repeat the message. Now they get angry as if I have accused them of something they would never do. I repeat the warning, walk away and next thing I know, they’re freak dancing again. Fortunately, unlike Sisyphus, I have an alternative. That’s when I tap them on the shoulders and tell them to get out of the dance. By the time they leave, unhappy, disappointed, and shooting daggers at me with their eyes, I renew my vow to get to the adjunct duties sign-ups sooner next year. I'm not exactly planning to trip any of the other teachers, but they better not get in my way.


  1. Yes, I was an unlucky one stuck with several dances -- in fact, I worked one on crutches after my knee surgery! : ) (The crutch was effective -- you should try using one along with the flashlight). I just have to say, Sandy, I LOVE reading your blog! Very, very readable and engaging and funny and warm. Very you.
    (Mary Z)

  2. I am SO glad I'm too old for freak dancing, and that my kids are too young for this garbage. And nope, I'm NOT looking forward to when they're not too young anymore.

  3. This is one of my absolute favorite things you have written it makes me laugh. All people who are going into high school teaching should be required to read your essays. Love Mamasita

  4. Thank you Mary, Susan, and Mom. I really appreciate your kind words. High school teaching has been such an adventure!