A Bullshit Philosophy
I may not know why (or if) I’m a writer, but I know exactly how I became an English teacher. Beginning with my own perfunctory education, through both of my purblind teaching interviews, and on to my present life plowing through the academic netherworld, prevarication has yet to fail me.
I think; I am; therefore, I bullshit.
As a high school student, I took my assignments with the same level of seriousness as Obama does the TeaParty—in other words, not at all. More accurately, I didn’t consider them important in the way my teachers did. Instead, I viewed each chapter to read, test to take, or paper to write as a competition. Last Bluffer Standing: me vs. the Teach. I learned which teachers were saps—refusing to use a graphing calculator should’ve made trigonometry impossible to pass, except the teacher gave the same MULTIPLE CHOICE test each year(!)—and which weren’t—though I got away with being morally against cat dissection, skipping an entire chapter on the human body because I was uncomfortable with nudity killed my Anatomy grade. Most importantly, I learned that writing an English paper didn’t require reading anything, an epiphany that served me well when, after 10 years of procrastinating, I finally decided to major in English so I could graduate from college—a postulate of posthumous fame.
Note that BS did not equal plagiarism, at least not in my Internetless adolescence. No, my defense strategy was much more subversive, and it was threefold: if possible, write about something the teacher hasn’t read; otherwise, write from an angle the teacher would never think of; and, if all else fails, write above the teacher’s intelligence level. In one glorious paper, written while attending a fundamentalist high school, I puissantly united all three tactics by writing about the idolatry in Poe’s lesser known poem “Lenore.” No doubt, the planning behind these strategies took much longer than just reading the actual assignment and writing a boring, expected paper. The grade would’ve been the same either way. However, I wasn’t interested in succeeding; I wanted to win.
When I went to interview for my first teaching job two years ago, I was surprised how readily my bullshit prowess resurfaced. After eight long years working in nonprofit America, then spending a couple years having and staying home with a baby, the fact that I had any brain cells left at all was a miracle, let alone those sophisticated enough to proselytize malarkey. And yet, as early as 10 or 15 minutes into the interview, I was hired. The conversation went something like this:
Dean of Humanities: The fact that you’ve taught Freshman Comp before means you’re qualified.
Soon-To-Be Rockstar Teacher: Oh.
After that, I wasn’t sure what else there was to be said. It definitely wasn’t my complete thought which was, Oh…Then why the hell am I wearing a suit in 90 degrees weather?
STBRT: This campus is really beautiful.
DOH: Actually, it’s pretty torn up right now. Hopefully, they’ll fix it before the semester starts.
Good thing I wasn’t interviewing for a landscaping position. I saved the interview with the following sob story: When I was a college student, I always felt out of place—both literally and figuratively. On the first day of classes, the fear that I would be in the wrong classroom was almost enough to keep me from going to class. Even once I managed to memorize my schedule, I didn’t answer any questions in class and I agonized over every single paper. Therefore, I can empathize with my students, which leads to a camaraderie I never felt with my teachers. Obviously, I left out the part about being too smug to participate in a discussion with students who I felt to be less life-experienced than me, and the whole “spend more time thinking up an unachievable topic than actually being prepared to write something down” thing. You’ll never convince me that plainspokenness is more palatable than poppycock.
This past summer, I had the equivalent to this experience over the phone, when interviewing for my now secondary teaching job. Thinking this was a pre-interview to get the in-person one, I wasn’t fully prepared to BS my way into yet another job; however, as she began asking me questions, and I sat in the sun thinking about how nice it was to have nothing to do all day, my bullshit switch must have flipped automatically. The first “live or die” question was something about helping students revise their work. Now to be fair, I am a genius at revision; think along the Jackson Pollack/Van Gogh/Sonny & Cher lines. But to be frank, I can’t remember the exact pabulum I puked up. I only know that, along with my response to the second question, which I no longer remember, the answer was pleasing enough to get me the job. Insert your favorite in-your-face Emeril catchphrase here.
Tomorrow, on my 34th birthday, I’ll wake up around 7:30, or earlier if the kid knocks loud enough on my bedroom door for me to hear; I’ll shower in lukewarm water and curse the landlord who doesn’t care enough to upgrade his hot water heater; I’ll dress in something pink, as I have done for the last decade; and I’ll get in my mommy car, drive too fast to work, and wonder: what in the hell am I going to say to these kids today? The idea that the world has entrusted me with the educational career of almost 100 students this semester would scare me, if I thought about it. I don’t; at least not since I took the Idle Teacher pledge. Admittedly, I’m so idle as to have not yet formulated the actual principles under this pledge, but I know it will involve not overanalyzing my place in their world. Much like my own educational career, I know that this semester is just that: four short months of busting your ass in a long life of nobody cares anyway.
Yet, there will undoubtedly be a protasis in the Idle Teacher pledge that advises against prefacing the semester with such a pessimistic philosophy. In fact, I purposefully do not walk into class on the first day, or any other day, and propose to my students the certain percentage of them who will not survive the semester, even as I prepare myself for that possibility. This act isn’t one of salvation; it’s a reaction to a decidedly blunt teacher I had my first semester of college. “Welcome to Music Theory at one of the country’s most prestigious music schools,” he said, after which, along with my peers, I flushed with pride. “For many of you, this building will become your home for the next four years; the rest of you—nearly 50% of you here today—will not make it through this semester.” From that day on, I had little respect for that teacher. Where was his bullshit buffer zone? His pleasing persona? His heart? For I did turn out to be one of those 50%, and—thanks to his asshole requirements like turning in every assignment folded vertically with only our last name written in red on the outside, lefthand crease two lines down from the top—I blame him entirely. He didn’t have to really believe in me! Just to have acted like he did would have been perfectly fine.
Monday of this week, I went in to work poised to hear 40 students present independent projects they’d been assigned to work on over the weekend. A piddling 1% of them had something prepared. Four Students Who Took The Assignment Seriously, for Pete’s Sake! Had I been Dr. McCrankyPants, I certainly would’ve pounded them a pretty one. You can believe I wanted to. Instead, I put on my poker face, released a quick WTF prayer, and preempted any possible mutiny with a “how can I help you through this crisis of intelligence” class session, topped off with a whopping dose of “Am I not the most permissive, patient and persevering teacher you’ve ever had or ever will have?” Bullshit. Pertinent and preventative, but bullshit all the same; well, except for maybe the persevering part. They deserved to fail, and I deserved to get to fail them. But there was Wednesday to consider.
So far, life has proved that being a prevaricator pays. After all, I’m a paid professional, albeit more to a few perchance bluffs than anything purposeful. And I graduated cum laude, thank you very much, without buying into the pomp & circumstance. After spitting on the front stairs of my school, I chose to celebrate privately in place of whatever posthaste poetics they had planned for me. Given my proclivity towards passivity, I’m better off procuring my own precious bullshit. Perhaps, no–quite possibly; actually, I’m positive; moreover, I promise you: we are all better off citing Bullshitpedia.