Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Snake oil & motivational speakers

Snake oil.

Sadly that’s what first pops into my mind as I sit through yet another motivational speaker on the Welcome Back Day for teachers. Now mind you, I have nothing against motivational speakers. In fact, this one rates pretty high on my rating scale of smiley faces–probably worth eight smileys. (He was much better than the handshaking guy I listened to a few years back, but that’s an entirely different story.)

Still, sadly the fact remains, that I can’t shake that snake oil image. I like a good yarn as much as the next person, but I tend to wonder if we don’t have a bit of the Janet Cooke’s Jimmy working here. (Remember her? The Washington Post journalist who had to return her Pulitzer Prize once it was discovered that the main character–an 8-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy –was not a real person. It made for a great story, but that’s all it was–a story. It was a sad day for journalism and marked the beginning of a series of fourth estate betrayals.

But let’s get back to the issue here. While listening to yet another sad story about how a teacher ripped the heart out of her fifth grade student, I marveled at my own educational history. I must be some sort of anomaly because I never had a teacher tell me I was a failure at life and would never amount to anything. Did I face mean teachers? Yes. Insensitive ones? Sure. Incompetent ones? Of course. But don’t you pretty much find those types of people in all kinds of professions? That’s just life, isn’t it?

So, let’s raise our hands and ask…Where exactly are these teachers and how come every motivational speaker had a teacher who channeled the Wicked Witch of the West? And then let’s ponder how come that teacher was always followed by Glinda the Good Witch of the North who inspired them to be all they can be? (And while we’re at it, just where in the Sam Hill are those ruby slippers anyway?…Sorry, got off track.)

But you see what I mean? It’s a bad version of good cop/bad cop. In the gazillion years–ok make that 22 years of teaching–I’ve never run across a peer who face-to-face, toe-to-toe told a kid, “I don’t like you. You’ll never amount to anything.” Now that is not to say that teachers (sadly again, myself included) from time to time haven’t thought, “Geez, you’re such a big, fat stupidhead.”

But that really shouldn’t be much of a shocker either. I think those thoughts can pop into your head regardless of your profession. In fact, I often think that about other drivers while maneuvering through rush hour traffic. (I have patience issues.) But to actually have those words reverberate across my vocal chords or any of my teacher friends, well, I don’t think so. Otherwise, I might encounter a nasty bit of road rage involving Mr. Smith & Wesson in the traffic “situation.” In a classroom “situation,” I’m sure my rather large behind would be sitting in the principal’s office. And, it wouldn’t be pretty, and I’m not just talking about my backside either.

It all just makes me wonder why we listen and gasp mesmerized by these witchy teacher stories. This doesn’t mean that these incidents haven’t occurred. I’m just saying that apparently these happen disproportionately to motivational speakers. Sort of a badge of the trade, I guess. So now that I’ve reached this epiphany, I’ll have to cross that field off my “Potential Things I Could Do If I Didn’t Teach” list.

Regardless of this new insight, I still joined in the laughter and felt a few tingly sensations once or twice as I listened to our speaker. I applauded, nodded in agreement, smiled and even stood for the ovation.

Snake oil. Not a cure, but it sure feels good.

1 comment:

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel said...

Perhaps the Witchy teachers are an Urban Legend? I've had the Good ones, but the bad have finally slipped away into history. Except for the one who about broke me -- they pulled me out of his class. They didn't have "math for brilliant right-brained girls" systems in those days. My scores said I belonged in AP math, and by god, I belonged in AP math! (Those pesky test scores.)

I'm sure he wasn't a bad man -- he was a gruff old coach, and I found out later he was losing his wife to cancer. But he had me convinced that I couldn't go to him to say "I have been lost for a month and it's getting worse." So, he was a good teacher for many, but he was my witchy teacher. (And my Wiccan friends would say, NOT A WITCH!)