“A Guide for the Burned Out Teacher” By: Kelly Charlton

Wake up, exhausted, at four in the morning. Try not to knock down the piles of books and magazines on your cluttered nightstand as you search for your prayer book, which is buried, you think, in the middle of one of those stacks. In your tired frame of mind, you haven’t felt like your happy-go-lucky, manic self lately, and the Prozac Dr. Lee prescribed two months ago still isn’t doing shit to improve your mood even though she has increased your dosage from 10 milligrams to 60.


“What are you doing?” your wife mumbles from her side of the bed. She is a light sleeper with the uncanny habit of waking up whenever you are trying to be quiet.

“Looking for my prayer book. Go back to sleep.” You spot the book across the room lying on the desk by your computer, exactly where you must have left it although you don’t remember leaving it there.

Retrieve the book. Go to the kitchen and sit at the table. Open to page 22 where the day’s reading is titled “The Duty of Prayer.”

Think: Shit. I don’t want to go to work today.

And you really don’t.

Lately, you’ve found yourself wishing you hadn’t paid attention to that idiotic voice in your head, the voice that convinced you in the eighth grade to become a high school English teacher. At that time, your head swam with grandiose visions of working with young students, teaching them the fine intricacies of grammar, showing them how to creatively turn a phrase, and exposing them to all the wonderful complexities of finely written literature in an effort to expose them to the delights and pains inherent in the human heart.
They had other ideas.

Like smoking pot and showing up for class stoned.

At age 26, your first teaching assignment shattered your dreams. Your students preferred other forms of entertainment such as talking on their cell phones or discussing who was sleeping with whom to studying Shakespeare and dangling participles. Most had no clue how to express themselves using a complete sentence, and if you’d had a whisky shot for every time you read an essay containing the word “cuz,” you would have become a fine drunk, which in retrospect doesn’t sound so bad.

Most teachers who aren’t going to make it burn out in five years. You beat that average during your third. By that time you felt disgusted and defeated (and you had tenure) so you dumped your ideals and took to showing action movies and cartoons at least two times a week to keep the cognizant kids entertained while the stoners either slept or drew marijuana leaves in their textbooks. This has been going on for ten years, but nobody ever complains, not the students, not the parents, and certainly not the administration, because you learned early in your career how to keep everyone happy. You pass all your students with a C or better.

Return to the present. Direct your attention back to your prayer book and read the passage.

Close your eyes.

Pray: Dear Jesus, please help me survive this day.

Close the book. Put it on the kitchen table. Pick up Jack, your little terrier who is rolled in a warm ball at your feet, and gaze into his sleepy eyes. Hold him to your chest and feel his tiny heartbeat.

Say: I’m so glad you came into my life. Kiss him on the tip of his nose.

You have to get ready for work.

After a fifteen minute shower, get dressed in your favorite jeans and your black leather jacket. Complement your outfit with black leather boots. Throughout the years, you have overheard many students in the hallway and in your classes debating whether or not you are a lesbian. You never answer them directly, but because you are a lesbian, you figure you might as well dress the part.

Wonder, briefly, how these kids would react if you showed up one day on a Harley and zoomed through the school parking lot. Laugh.

Pray: Dear God, please help my less fortunate students. Like Valerie who always participates but whose answers are always wrong because she’s borderline retarded.

Waste ten minutes looking for your keys, which should be hanging on the hook your wife installed in the kitchen, but aren’t. Find them, finally, on the coffee table in the living room and rush outside to your beat up Ford Pinto.

Pray: Dear Jesus, please let it start.

Lately, the engine has been bucking and retching whenever you turn it on. After it fires up, pray: Thank you, Jesus. Now, if it’s not too much trouble, please help me get that part-time job as a telephone sex operator. I need a new car. Thank you.

Blast the radio once you hear the deejay announce the next song, “Our God Is an Awesome God.”

Be sure to remind yourself how awesome He is as your engine seizes, coughs up a puff of black smoke, and causes your car to die in the middle of the freeway. Realize your earlier wish has been granted. You don’t have to teach today.

Pray: Dear Lord Jesus, please keep me safe. If I had known this morning was going to suck harder than a starving hooker, I would have stayed in bed.

Turn on your emergency lights.

Call the Automobile Club to request a tow truck.

Pray: Dear God, could you please send a driver who is a cutie…and female?

Wait for said driver to arrive.

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