My first year in education was in a middle school teaching seventh grade Language Arts. In this building once March Madness started, everything basically shut down. You could walk through the halls and almost every classroom had the tournament on and students and teachers alike had their brackets out on their desks. Many teachers gave students “homework” that they could work on to suggest that the educational process wasn’t being disturbed (most watched television. Who wouldn’t?) I even remember that a team developed an interdisciplinary based on the tournament which was a thinly disguised way to allow them to watch basketball the last two days of the week. This type of behavior wasn’t exactly encouraged, but it was definitely excused.
At the time I wasn’t really into March Madness. I enjoyed watching basketball, but was take it or leave it. However, I felt the pressure to pretend like I was really into it because it seemed like everyone else was. I didn’t want to feel left out of conversations. I wanted to students and teachers to think I wasn’t weird. The old ladies on the staff could care less bout basketball, but as a guy in my twenties I didn’t want to be associated with them!
So I did what everyone else did. I came up with seat work that the students could do while I promptly turned on the TV at noon and pretended like it was the greatest day of my life. I’m pretty sure I tried to take on the demeanor that at this time, education wasn’t the most important thing going on. I may have even expressed irritation when students asked me a question that pulled my from my attentive viewing. I ignored the fact that a large contingent may not have cared about March Madness and were resentful that their day was overrun by sports.
A similar event happened the following year with a staff golf outing. I had not picked a club since fourth grade, but didn’t want to be the only person who didn’t play. So I faked it. I came into the workroom with my dad’s clubs after school one day, proudly heading out to the driving range to practice, imitating the sorts of things that people who are really into golf would say. It may come as no surprise that I made a fool of myself that day on the course. I haven’t really played golf since, and this event has left such a scar that even though I think golf is something I would enjoy, I have resisted any opportunity to pick it up as a hobby.
Trying to be someone you aren’t is painful. It can be an especially big problem in the first few years of teaching. You are trying to figure out what kind of teacher the kids need you to be while also trying to fit in with a staff and be true to yourself. Often “yourself” is what gets sacrificed because it seems like the least important thing.
Gretchen Rubin writes about how important it is to be true to yourself in her book “The Happiness Project” and on her blog. She always reminds herself to “Be Gretchen.” She writes about wanting to be the person that likes certain activities but that deep down she knows that just because other people like to do something, it doesn’t mean that she will. She writes that we can choose what we do, but we can’t choose what we like to do.
Figuring out who you are and what you like to do may be the most important work we do, and I feel like just now over the past couple of years I’m figuring it out. I do enjoy the tournament now, but I haven’t filled out a March Madness bracket for a long time. I did for a few years but then decided I wanted to be a person that filled out brackets more than I actually enjoyed doing it. In fact, I enjoy the tournament more as an impartial observer who doesn’t get mad when a team loses and spoils the upset I had so cleverly picked.
Madness is being someone else for everyone else. The truth is I like sports, but only kind of. I like to watch them, but in most cases I’m perfectly happy doing something else. And I’ve learned to be okay with that, which is sometimes hard in a profession that seems at times to completely revolve around athletics.
Despite the fact that I feel very in tune with myself at this moment, I can get a little self righteous at times about what I like to do and don’t enjoy doing. I need to learn to be less judgmental about how other people spend their time, and I’m truly sorry for the times that I have been that way.
As I write this Ohio State (my team) is playing Iowa State is the round of 32. I have the television turned on with the sound off. In the back of my mind I’m thinking about the sub plans I will have to do for the two days after spring break when I will be absent. I’m also excited to watch the kids at their swim lessons later in the day and maybe do some artwork. Just for today, I feel balanced.