I enjoy playing my naïveté of current trends against my depth of knowledge of both the math I'm teaching and the impression I'm creating. To my students, I come across as a dorky math dude who's also cool. Everything I do is calculated, but still extemporaneous. If I say something that doesn't work (say a bad joke . . . . do I actually know any GOOD ones?), or do something that could be viewed as mortifying to others (my voice has been know to "crack" on frequent occasions), I merely just laugh extra hard and keep on going. My reputation if fun with rigor is one I've worked hard to create and maintain.
But recently, other youthful colleagues and I were discussing an uncomfortable, yet interesting, topic. Considering ourselves to be what our wives would call "strapping and handsome," and what we'd merely call "not the ugliest mutt in the litter," are we too "good looking" to teach high school among hundred of impressionable young adults?
Before you let your mind go where I think it might go, understand that those in the discussion realize the potential "hazard" and take careful, deliberate efforts to avoid any situation that might be deemed inappropriate, especially after another colleague of ours was "run off" amid the specious allegations of one female student. When I first started teaching, I became a colleague of my old math teacher, an inspirational, fun-loving, teddy-bear of a teacher. He was a seasoned veteran and also very affectionate. He' give out the "double-armed, full wrap-around, and squeeze for 5 second" hugs to many of his female students as they came into the class. He never even initiated the hugs, the girls simply approached him with open arms. The embraces were innocent enough, I guess, but standing next to him, it always made me very uncomfortable. Would the girls turn to me next out of politeness and offer me one? Thinking these thoughts, I didn't even want to tell them "hello" much less touch them!! I thought, "how long would I have to teach for someone to see me hugging female students like that without thinking that I got into education for the wrong reasons?" That was one experiment I'd never conduct.
So why bring up a topic that we are almost uncomfortable just talking about (other than facing our fears)? Well, because of a comment we heard by a female teacher at an elementary school. It went something like this:
I can't possibly teach high school. I have to teach elementary, 'cause I'm too good-looking. Those high school boys would be all over me and would not be able to learn anything in my class [because I'm too distracting because of my aforementioned beautiful looks.] (Comments in brackets added for sensationalism.)It's hard to keep a straight face when you hear someone make a comment like this, especially when you're looking at them, and their pulchritude isn't as obvious to you as it to them. But then again, I tend to notice personality first, which is why a comment like that made her immediately unattractive. I didn't even want to stare at her long enough to see if there was a real person beneath all the make up, hairspray, and eau de toilette. All I could think of was how fortunate the elementary school boys were to have a teacher who was making sound educational decisions that were in their future best interests.
Once, a few years ago, a young female student come into my class before school on a day when nobody else was in my room for tutorials. She was crying and noticeably upset. "OH CRAP," I thought, as the door to my classroom automatically closed behind her. "OF ALL THE PEOPLE TO COME TO FOR COMFORT, WHY HAD SHE CHOSEN ME?" She wanted to talk, and she needed a reassuring hug. I was so uncomfortable, all I could muster was a shaky "There, there . . . . . . there," throwing in that last one for good measure. Call my soothing words a "verbal hug."
She was soon gone, smiling, and laughing. I don't know what I said, but it ended up taking her mind off her troubles. Maybe it was the math problem I worked for her. Nonetheless, I was glad that uncomfortable moment was over.
If only I wasn't so good-looking, I could have given her the consoling hug she probably really needed. Hey, maybe I'd make a good Elementary School Counselor!