It’s a tough time to be a teacher.
We’re expected to captivate, motivate and differentiate, to remediate or accelerate, to teach students to calculate and communicate, to participate and cooperate, to formulate and postulate, to stay celibate and not procreate, and to ensure that every last one of them will graduate.
When it comes to “ates” we have a belly-full — including the hate thrown at us from seemingly every direction.
Legislators fight over whether or not we’re worth the most meager of pay raises. The Secretary of Education wants to cut billions from public school funding. The sons of world leaders call us losers. Parents bully and badger and question and condemn us.
Teachers are blamed if students fail at math, at manners, at life.
And for the most part, most of us can weather the demands piled upon us while still teaching with skill, enthusiasm, and grace.
But all of us still wonder, at times, if we have what it takes to meet the rapidly accelerating expectations.
And now, this year, a new challenge has emerged. One I’m not quite sure I know how to handle.
These days, teachers have a major case of The Vapers. Not to be confused with The Vapors (with an O), which was some crazy, female, hormone-fueled hysteria and hocus-pocus of the Victorian age, the current Vapers (with an E) is a crazy, female AND male, nicotine-fueled hysteria and smokus-pocus of the modern age.
The Vapers: teens who are vaping. And I’m sad to say we have ourselves an epidemic.
I’ve been a professional educator for the last 18 years, but until this year, I’d never had a case of The Vapers. This year, though, vaping is one of middle and high school’s major discipline and health concerns, and we teachers have had emails, training videos, and faculty meetings devoted to the topic. That’s how quickly the epidemic has grown.
Before those trainings, I had no idea that the sickeningly sweet smell that followed in the wake of students in stairwells and bathrooms and classrooms was the lingering scent from vape pens and juuls. I just knew I was getting lots of headaches from what I thought was bad teenage perfume. That is, until a student stopped me in the hall.
“You do know kids are vaping in your classroom, right?”
Then she told me all the tricks. She explained that kids keep their hoodies pulled up over their mouths and around their ears, not because they’re cold from the drizzly, wettest season on record, but because they are taking hits of nicotine (or sometimes THC) bathed in sweet, glycerin-based liquids and then exhaling into their jackets.
And the cartridges are disguised as flash drives or writing utensils — making The Vapers really, really hard to catch. Despite the irony of them multiplying like cancer cells.
Here’s how hard they are to catch…
I personally witnessed a misty cloud dissipating above the head of a student at the back of my classroom. And I smelled the sickeningly-sweet odor I now knew was not bad teenage perfume.
So I promptly called an administrator.
But when the proper authorities searched the student, nothing was found. The Vaper either passed it off to somebody else or hid it in places admin wasn’t comfortable searching for fear of lawsuit.
Since then, I’ve found vape pens in my classroom, have had students caught vaping in bathrooms, and have had friends’ children serve detention for vaping.
I definitely feel out of my league on this one… I fear I’m about to succumb to a massive plague that may deplete the ranks of teachers everywhere. And it’s not just The Vapers. It’s the pressure from all angles that is getting to us: the legislators, the policies, the public, the parents, the drug paraphernalia. It’s all the demands. All of them.
But every morning I put on my game face… and I put on three bracelets. Three bracelets bearing messages to remind me of why I do this difficult and thankless job.
One says “Blessed” in braille.
One says, “Nevertheless, She Persisted.”
And one says, “I am not a Teacher, but an Awakener.”
They are my spiritual chain mail, girding my soul in positivity and light.
I say the phrases as I head out the door, ready to captivate, motivate and differentiate, to remediate or accelerate, to teach students to calculate and communicate, to participate and cooperate, to formulate and postulate, to stay celibate and not procreate, and do my absolute best to see every last one of them graduate.