Teacher Pat Brothwell shares some tragically funny comments from his students.
I was walking toward my classroom when I overhead a student I’d never met say, “That’s a loser move that Brothwell would pull.” I’m not proud to say that my first instinct was to stop her and be all like, “You don’t know me. You have no idea how cool I am.”
Then reality hit. She’s a sixteen year old girl and I’m a 27 year old teacher. I should be the bigger man. She wasn’t saying it to my face and she didn’t sound super malicious. She sounded like she was merely stating a fact: “Brothwell is a loser.” It stung but I let it go. As a high school teacher you learn to pick your battles.
You also learn early on that the job requires thick skin. Teenagers are merciless and you have to get into your head that while you might still be “young,” you’re not cool. I could make a list of “cool” references I’ve made that have fallen flat but I don’t have the time or page space.
You have to take it all with a grain of salt and over the past four years I’ve developed a sense of humor about it, which is why I chuckled last year when I discovered that my name graced the wall of the boy’s bathroom directly across the hallway from my classroom. I couldn’t help but notice it, because well, it was in magic marker and written in large letters directly at eye level: “Brothwell sucks Donkey Dick.”
I took a picture to send to my mother, who teaches high school Home Economics (“you’re doing something right” she wrote back) and ran back to class. I couldn’t help but wonder if one of the students sitting in front of me had adorned the stall. I wondered if they saw it.
I got my answer when one of the guys came back from the bathroom with a huge grin on his face. “Brothwell,” he said. “I learned something interesting about you in the bathroom.” I assured them I wasn’t into bestiality.
I switched rooms this year so don’t use that bathroom as much anymore. Maybe two weeks into school I found myself there and thought what the hell, I’ll take a gander. I no longer “sucked donkey dick,” but these days am partial to “deepthroating a cammmal.” It was a double burn: not only was it still implying that I have a thing for beasts of burden but it represented a professional failure. I teach English and if students learn one thing I want it to be the importance of proofreading. Fail.
Last week a different bathroom was tagged with “Brothwell eatz cock.” There’s no winning in this game. You can’t ignore the writing on the wall, at least not if you choose to relieve yourself in the student bathrooms, but you can ignore the online chatter. I’ve just chosen not too.
Writing on the bathroom wall is actually pretty outdated these days. Online reviews and social media are how students bully each other, so why not throw instructors into the mix? I probably could have easily ignored this, but as someone who grew up in the digital age, and who is all too familiar with blasting school via AIM away messages and RateMyTeacher.com, it was too much to resist.
By today’s terms RateMyTeacher is an outdated site; in fact, I doubt most of the current crop I have even knows what it is. I remember it being a big deal in high school, so big that it got banned. I checked for my name a week into starting my job, under the guise of “wanting accurate feedback” and was somewhat disappointed to get no mention. I just had to give it some time.
The first one was simple and to the point. “The dude’s a real prick.” Fair enough. The second one was a little more hurtful. “Brothwell’s a real nice guy, but I think he’s pretty dumb.” It stung, but not as much as the third assessment which echoed the same sentiment. “He’s pretty dumb but I bet he looks good in a pair of swim trunks.” The shallow part of me was flattered in a completely unhealthy way. The realistic part of me was just bitter because since that had been written, well Christmas happened, and an onslaught of party spreads and booze had ensured that I probably looked like I taught English when I put those “swim trunks on.”
These days if you go on my RateMyTeacher, the first review you’ll find claims “I’m a hip, young guy.” If it sounds like something a 50 year old mom might’ve written, then you’d be correct. My mother wanted to save my ego and so gave me the only “cool teacher” assessment. That might be the saddest part of this story.
Two years later Twitter exploded. Students live on Twitter (Facebook is so 2008, like me). I didn’t have a Twitter account and didn’t know how to work it so lived in ignorant bliss for a time, until a coworker told me the stuff she found students saying about her on Twitter. It was pretty awful, and not in a funny way. My curiosity was piqued. I went to Twitter that afternoon and searched “Mr. Brothwell” and the following gem was the first thing that popped up.
Mr. brothwell having you for english makes me want to pepper spray my face eyes open and all #goaway #yourannoying #andgay
How is that not gold?
There were a few others asserting that I “wasn’t even a real teacher” and that “everyone was over my dumb assignments” but in my eyes nothing holds up to the peppery spray. I want this as my epitaph. I’m not even kidding.
I don’t search myself on Twitter as often as I thought I might. It feels like too much of an invasion of privacy, even though one could argue that the smarter students privatize their accounts, but when I do nothing of note comes up. Maybe it’s because most people are privatizing these days or maybe the current crop of students doesn’t mind me? Who knows?
Finally there’s the to-your-face-insults, the ones that students possibly don’t even mean to make but because of sheer ignorance or lack of social tact or perhaps some good old passive aggressiveness they do anyway. Here are some classics. It’s like they don’t realize who grades them:
- “Hey you look different this year. Did you get tan or just like, bigger?
- “You were my favorite class last year. I learned absolutely nothing.”
- “Are you from West Virginia? You just have that look” (No offense to West Virginians, it just has a certain…implication.)
- “The other day my mom tried to buy me a sweater and I was like ‘no way that’s something Brothwell would wear.’”
Every day is Teacher Appreciation Day when you’re an educator.