Working as a teacher in a program that hires teachers for elementary schools as well as secondary schools has brought me to a certain realization about my own elementary school teachers. They probably swore.
I always have this fond recollection of my elementary school teachers, especially the young ones right of college or even still performing their supervised teaching requirements, as being the kindest, gentlest, most sincere and, quite frankly, sinless beings on the face of the planet. They could do no wrong, no harm, and no evil. They were pure, unadulterated good. They were the perfect models to mold young minds and hearts in their most fragile stages, preparing them for the rigors of their later life.
But now I know elementary school teachers. More importantly, I know them as adults—adults who at one time were taking the exact same elementary school classes I was taking. They are no more sinless, pure, or good than the rest of us. They are human. Indeed, they bleed.
I came to this sad realization in what is almost certainly the most innocuous way possible—I saw a curse word in an elementary school teacher’s “Gchat Status”.
For the uninitiated, Gmail—Google’s email service—has an imbedded instant messaging service called Gchat. Users can write a short sentence or two indicating their current status to either elicit conversation or ward it away. However, by my estimation, most people just use it to post interesting links of one kind or another (mostly harmless) or to inform others about what they just did with their lives (mostly crazy; I’m still amazed by what people are willing to make public about their lives on the Internet, myself included). So, on the one hand, you could get a link to a humorously captioned picture of fuzzy feline or a sweet guitar lick played like a pro by an amateur computer science student. On the other hand, you could be informed that your friend just got married or that the-guy-to-whom-you-sent-an-email-only-once-in-your-life-but-somehow-he-wound-up-on-your-chat-contacts-list’s dog has diarrhea.
Or, you can come to a sad realization about your childhood—that Mrs. Lewinsky, you teacher in the 1st grade, was possibly going downtown every evening to carouse and that she more than likely uses words like shit, damn, and even the unspeakable f-word on a regular basis.
I can’t remember the exact phrase in question, and in fact before the incident, I’d heard many of my elementary school teacher colleagues use such colorful explicative in combinations worthy of any deep voiced video fighting game announcer’s talents (86 HIT COMBO!). I do remember it struck me though. I do remember the certain loss of innocence that came with it. And I remember the small part of me that died with a muffled whimper deep within my childlike soul on that day as a single tear streaked my cheek. Any loss of innocence is profound (and certainly worthy of illustrative hyperbole).
I also remember feeling at least a little bit betrayed. How dare Mrs. Lewinsky say I couldn’t swear! How dare she say that it wasn’t polite language, that it was un-genteel, that I would have to sit in the corner for 10 minutes if ever I committed such an infraction again! How dare she hold me to a standard of pristine innocence that she herself couldn’t possibly have maintained outside of school hours with a couple of beers in her!
But I do understand why. I too am an adult attempting to mold young minds, albeit high school minds far more intellectually advanced than my 1st grade mind was. And, thus, I too hold my students to a far greater standard of etiquette than I hold myself. It may have been hypocritical for Mrs. Lewinsky to hold me, a child, to an adult double standard, but it would be even more hypocritical of me, an adult, to hold my adult colleagues to such a double standard as well.
And in the end, I remember this—my friend is Mrs. Lewinsky when she swears in front of me, a mature adult able to handle such foul utterances. My friend is Mrs. Lewinsky when she insists in all-knowing hypocrisy that her students do no swear in front of anyone. But she is most Mrs. Lewinsky—pure, innocent, sinless Mrs. Lewinsky—when she holds herself to that same impossible standard in front of her children—wide-eyed, impressionable, 1st grade me.