Why I Will Never be a Teacher

I’m crazy about teachers. They are selfless, fun, ridiculously dedicated, and a wee bit nutty. I should know, for I have been surrounded by teachers — either by choice or design — my entire life. Both of my parents were teachers. My older sister is a teacher. My wife, Ellen, is a teacher. And, for the past 15 years, I have worked in schools.

But I do not teach; I write and edit alumni magazines — and this is for the best. I would not be a good teacher.

To best explain why I feel this way, I need to tell you a little story:

***

Back in 1995, one of my short plays was accepted into a one-act festival. The cast and the director were selected without my input, which is pretty common. I also found everyone to be pleasant and fun, which is far less common. I especially liked the director, a weather-scarred longshoreman named Joe who was built like a vandalized brick house. He was tapping into his artistic side, apparently – and was very successful in doing so. He came up with many excellent ideas that I embraced without reservation.

The cast was also a pretty good fit. The actress playing the lead – let’s call her Marla – was playing slightly against type, but Joe, who had nothing to do with the casting either, was addressing the problem. He figured Marla would work out just fine. He turned out to be right; Marla was a quick study, and the rehearsal process proceeded apace.

But, as you probably guessed by now, something happened.

Something always happens.

On the week before opening night, the play was on its feet and the actors were off book. Now Joe was just working on little things — sharpening the timing and making sure that the actors not only remembered their lines but also understood why they were saying the lines as written.

It was at this very, very late point in the process that Marla started to forget large swaths of the play.

This surprised everyone — for Marla had her dialogue down pat for weeks — but no one was more surprised than Joe, who I discovered, to my delight, was even more control freaky and detail oriented than I was.

Joe decided that an interrogation was in order. He called for a break and pulled Marla aside while the rest of us sat around pretending to not eavesdrop. After a few minutes, the two of them broke away and, with a sigh, Joe called me over.

“She quit smoking,” Joe said.

“Does that affect memory?” I asked.

“It does if your brain keeps yelling, ‘I want a cigarette! I want a cigarette! I want a cigarette!’”

Despite everyone’s best efforts, Marla could never find any spare brain real estate for her lines. It was like watching a car wreck in slow motion. Short of pinning Marla down and blowing smoke into her mouth (and I’m pretty sure Joe considered this option), there was nothing any of us could do.

Our fears were realized on opening night as a jittery Marla regaled the audience with an improvisational nic-fit fueled monologue. It was quite remarkable, really; what she uttered was so dissimilar from any of the lines I had written, that the rest of the cast was too fascinated to interrupt. Their silence only seemed to prompt Marla to spew more words in the hope that something coming out of her mouth might eventually sound familiar.

It took a while — a very long while — but Marla did find her way back to the script. The rest of the cast lunged at this opportunity and wrestled the play away from their co-star.

At that moment, I heard Joe, who was sitting two rows behind me, groan, “Oh, thank God!”

Joe’s outburst prompted me to giggle like an idiot until the play was over.

***

I recently told that story to a teenage actress I was interviewing for The Lawrenceville School’s alumni magazine. After she stopped laughing, I asked her, “Do you smoke?”

“No,” she replied.

“Great!” I said. “Don’t start.”

Then I added, “But if you do start, don’t stop.”

Something tells me a teacher would never urge a smoker to keep on smoking.

But I do not teach; I write. And, as a writer, I stand by this advice, now and forever.

72 thoughts on “Why I Will Never be a Teacher

  1. Oh, it’s even worse when you are a teacher and find yourself giving out unteacherly comments. The teacher police is sure to fine me for telling three of my freshmen boys (after the third time they interrupted our reduced Romeo and Juliet performance with an impromptu sword fight) to “just go away.” So much for creative and patient management techniques.

    • “Just go away” sounds pretty mild to me, but, again, I’m not a teacher.

      Frankly, I don’t know how teachers can be as patient as they are. A roomful of kids can generate just soooo much unwelcome energy.

      In short, I tip my cap to you, Cricket.

  2. I never wanted to be a teacher, either. And now I plan to homeschool my kids (eventually) because the state of our local schools is that terrible.

    Lord help them. But at least they’ll know how to read. Unlike so many kids in our schools…

  3. I’ve fallen off my chair laughing and am now reaching up to the keyboard to type.

    “I quit smoking!”

    “What, NOW? I mean, good for you. Really. Very healthy. But . . . NOW?”

    (I’m stealing “vandalized brick house” for wereduck)

  4. Funny story, Mike. Back in the stone age when I went to school, my eighth grade teacher used to smoke in the closet. And every time it was smoke out week, he became a monster. I remember the eraser and chalk flying across the classroom a lot that week. Good times! Oh the memories!

  5. Haha! What a fantastic story!

    I had a similar experience with my husband (Mr. H) when we got hitched in Vegas many moons ago. I always said I would never marry a smoker, because I didn’t want to love somebody that much and lose them in such a horrible way. He tried quitting many times leading up to the wedding with no success.

    So, he quit the day we left for our wedding weekend. Mr. H made it to the airport, through the flight and the cab to the hotel…then everything went to hell in the lobby. I took him by the shoulders and said in my most loving voice: “Honey, now is not the time to quit smoking. We’re freaking getting married.” He nodded and sprinted to the gift shop for cigs and we survived the weekend.

    A few years ago he successfully quit when he started running. The End. : )

  6. I laughed when the girl couldn’t remember her lines but could not figure out why. A mystery. Perplexed I laughed again when I read the reason. I wanted to yell out loud. “Give the girl a cigarette.” Bad move, right? 😮

  7. I think you must have a book of these types of experiences in your back pocket. Hilarious! Poor Joe. Poor you. How was the play received? Was there any mention of the digression in the reviews?

    • There were no reviews for this show; this place was a 99-seater on 42nd and 10th.

      To be quite honest, I wasn’t all that upset by what happened. I knew what was coming and approached the show with the attitude that something was going to go awry. The venue was too small (and I already have enough shows under my belt) to get worked up about it.

      That said, it also helped that no one in the audience knew what the author looked like.

  8. This is why live theater is so exciting.
    Having been a teacher, and moving on due to a difficult job market, I’ll admit I’ve said some less than inspiring things to students – practical, but probably not the best.

  9. Oh my…I would have been really bad and personally run out to get the poor girl a pack of cigarettes. Then after the play was over, I’d make amends by coaching her through quitting. Would the good in the end make up for the bad? 😉

  10. I hope my comment doesn’t appear twice. Sorry if it does! Internet posting troubles tonight : /…

    Oh, man, Mike, I started laughing as soon as I read “It was quite remarkable, really; what she uttered was so dissimilar from any of the lines I had written, that the rest of the cast was too fascinated to interrupt.” LOL!

    After reading all these comments, I feel somewhat comforted by the fact that I wasn’t the only one who thought “Tell her not to quit NOW!” yet my having quit smoking back in 1982, I felt terribly guilty about that thought! It could’ve been the ONE time she’d be successful at quitting and encouraging her to smoke would’ve been unforgivable! Still…

    😉

  11. “Joe who was built like a vandalized brick house”. Brilliant description!
    Quitting smoking is no small task and you have to commend Marla for sticking to it at such an inopportune time. I have quite smoking on several occasions and thankfully the last time seems to have stuck. He-Who has tried pretty much ever since I have known him. It is total insanity dealing with someone who is trying to quit. It has gotten so bad at times that I have said, “Please go have a cigarette, I can’t stand it anymore.” I confess that once I even went and bought him a pack of smokes. Total insanity!

  12. Oh God! I’m so glad you just shared this, cause I am behind on my blog reading. Hilarious and yet so wrong. I smoke and my therapist told me she did not recommend that I stop right now. That was like 8 months ago and I keep telling my husband I can’t quit cause my doctor told me not to.

      • Oh, Steph, we have lots of woods in New Jersey. The Pine Barrens fills up most of the southern part of the state. We also have ticks snakes, bears and lousy doctors. Far fewer smokers, though.

      • Right. I just googled “Pine Barrens New Jersey” and the first, very first article was about snakes. Noooo thank you.

      • Steph, don’t be put off by the snakes in the woods in NJ—-it’s the snakes that may be walking the streets you have to be wary of 😉 And Mike, you’re in NJ! You should attend our annual conferences! 😀

      • OK, this is just getting better and better! I’m totally glad I decided to go this year even though I STILL can’t afford $ it. It will SO be worth it, though honestly—ALL our conferences are worth it 😀 😉 Can’t wait!

      • Actually, Mike, for several years we did 3 days! Kathy (Temean) had worked it up to that (that’s when I was heavily involved with the organizing), then she stepped down as R.A. after the 2012 conference. Then Leeza Hernandez took over, but I wasn’t able to volunteer in that capacity so missed it in 2013 (heard it was still great! 😀 ), and this year I’m going, but they scaled it back down to 2 days. I canNOT wait 🙂 I guarantee you’ll have a blast!

  13. Bad timing on her part… great story though!! I have never really smoked but I understand it is a serious addiction and difficult to break. My brother said he felt like he had been taking drugs when he tried to quit.

    • Just throwin’ this out there for anyone who might want to know. Now, granted, this info is from about 25 years ago, so I’m SURE there are other drugs that are vying for or have taken over spots 1 and 2 on this list, BUT…

      …back then, when my husband (soon to be ex) was studying for his Sgt. exam (police officer), part of that was about drugs. As far as addictiveness, heroine was # 1 and nicotine was # 2, so yeah—it’s unquestionably a drug.

  14. I’m sorry. I’m a teacher, a daughter of a smokecoholic, but also a writer. I WOULD HAVE GIVEN HER THE CIGARETTES UNTIL THE SHOW WAS OVER!! Cigarettes are poison – for the heart, soul, body and entire family. BUT, the show must go on, and I got so angry for you – the playwright. You took it much better than I could have. Which proves that you’re a better man than I.

    • Oh, Pam, you are such a sympathetic and protective writer friend.

      To be honest, I was kinda dazzled by her audacity. She was hurting up there. She knew she was messing up, but she didn’t have a capacity to fix things so she plowed ahead on a wing and a prayer. If that isn’t “the show must go on” then nothing is!

      • I have to admit, I’ve been thinking more about the situation. I concluded that if I had been YOU, I would have surreptitiously thrown some ciggies on the stage here, there, for her to discover. The forgotten lines would have returned, and once her role was mastered and the play was done for the season, I would have given her the nicotine patch.
        Just sayin’….

  15. Who wants to teach when you can write like that. On the other hand anyone who can write like that would be an inspirational teacher. Didn’t you have at least one teacher who fueled your passion for words ?

  16. Ha, this is a great story. One of my coworkers, our Director of Finance, quit smoking using Chantex (not sure if I spelled that correctly) and she was fairly bat shite crazy there for a while. I definitely had my moments of wanting to– at the very least– cover her with nicotine patches.

  17. That’s a great story! I’ve been a smoker twice in my life, from 16-26, and then after not touching one for 11 years, I then started again when I was 37, during a weak moment amongst stressful times when a friend was smoking and I asked to have one, thinking I could stick to just smoking that evening, but just one evening of smoking hooked me right back in again instantly, scary. I smoked for about 2 years again then, and quit again, so that’s about 4 years free from it now. And now I know for sure, it’ll always have that hold on me, so I can’t ever allow myself even one. It’s horrible, when you smoke, wherever you are, all you can think about is when you’ll be able to get out and have a smoke break, and then when you give up, it’s horrendous for quite a while, and then suddenly one day you realise that almost a whole day has gone by without you thinking about it at all, and then you know you’re over the worst of it, and that’s a great feeling.

    But for the record, despite what you say, I think you would be an awesome teacher!

    • This surprises me. I never would’ve pegged you as a smoker. I’m so glad to hear that you quit. And I’m extra happy to hear that you didn’t quit the week before an opening night. 😉

      You are very sweet to say that I would be a good teacher. My post was a wee bit tongue in cheek; while I don’t think my smart remarks would prevent me from being a decent teacher, other parts of my personality — my lack of patience for one — would. I’ve seen how my mom and dad and wife have operated in the classroom. They are the best of the best, and their skills dazzle me. They have A Certain Something that I shall never possess.

  18. This was delightful! Theater antics are often the most comic, thank you for sharing and making a lot of people laugh. Did the performance end up being anything like how you originally wrote it, with such a capriciously spoken lead?

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