Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Most English Teachers Know They're Better Than You

If you have friends who teach, you already know about The Arrogance, and all I can do for you is apologize for all of us, thank you for your patience, and try my best to explain why we need it. 

I like to image The Arrogance as a talking but inhuman head growing out of my shoulder. It looks and sounds like the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. The Arrogance grows inside a teacher’s body somewhere, or inside a teacher’s brain. Sometimes, it makes that teacher say things no healthy adult would say. It condescends and corrects. It has even been known to sneer.

Imagine a conversation between two healthy adults. A literary allusion would sound like this: “I chased it all over the place like Captain Ahab.” That is a clear reference and no explanation is required. In a conversation between one healthy adult and The Arrogance, that allusion will be explicated: “I chased it all over the place like Captain Ahab. You see, there was a very famous book called Moby Dick. It was written by a man named Herman Melville, and it is about a man named Captain Ahab who vengefully pursues a whale.” Be calm, dear reader.

A healthy adult may say this phenomenon is “pretentious”. The Arrogance would say this phenomenon is “pretentious. That words means conceited or overly showy.” Do try to unclench your fist.

The Arrogance is a system of defense. Our days are spent in front of crowds not guaranteed to understand us or believe us or care about what we are saying. Bear with us.

Confused Disney-eyes often greet the inter-textual verbosity savored by lovers of language. (The Arrogance is eager to tell you what “verbosity” is, with examples drawn from classic and contemporary literature, but I am doing my best to keep it silent.)

Skeptical glowers often greet our often vain attempts to assert our authority. I mean here our intellectual authority as well as our dominion over the classroom. (The Arrogance is eager for me to tell you, anecdotally, all about my past experience with this, as a way to totally prove that everything I am saying is right and you should believe it because you’ll need it when you go to college. And, anyway, I’ve seen this kind of shenanigan before so you’re going to have to get up pretty early to throw me for a loop, Buster.)

Profound apathy often greets our frequently giddy content-area geek-outs. (The Arrogance wants to win your interest in this topic by comparing it ham-fistedly to a scene in The Dark Knight Rises.)

The Arrogance grows out of habitual strategies designed to deal with these situations. It isn’t easy to leave it at work. We teachers, like everyone else who works passionately in a field that matters to them, have trouble putting our occupations behind us when we’re back in the non-work world. The Arrogance comes out over dinner or in the lobby of the movie theater. I’m sorry. It’s not me. It’s The Arrogance talking.

I hate The Arrogance. I hope to extinguish it someday, and not because I want to be popular at dinner parties. I would be a better teacher without it. Yes, to assume my students understand or know or care about too much can result in poor instruction, drowned in impenetrable obscurity and obfuscation. However, assuming they understand or know or care about too little can result in an opposite problem. My students often respond to The Arrogance much as you do, by shutting down. Who wants to listen to some snob, anyway?

I’m doing my best. In the mean time, your patience and tolerance are appreciated. When you see that Skeksis head pop up to correct your grammar, smother it. Just be understanding when you do.

*Special Guest Post: Arrogance  
My good friend Michael Stohrer wrote this he's an amazing teacher, musician and writer. You can read his fantastic music reviews here: and his teaching blog:


Tune in next week for the delayed post about Television and The Meaning of Life

1 comment:

  1. You know, I've actually experienced what you're talking about having been surrounded by teachers my entire life (mother (english, music, art), step mom (K-6 general), friends (english, english,

    It's interesting you describe it like this. I've never been able to put my finger on that side of teachers- and frankly, it's not just English teachers. (The Arrogance is judging my sentence structure and punctuation, I'm sure)

    I also find that The Arrogance gives multiple choice options when asking a question. I have found, some teachers say things like "well, did that make you feel like a or b?" almost like it's an assumption I'm unable to come up with "c" or "other". I don't know if that's a tactic to engage a student, or not.