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Chuch Brooks' column: Teachers are human, too

You realize, don't you, that to many students, teachers are not human, right? It's not something that is simply happening now. This has been the case for as long as I've taught. If I remember correctly, I am certain I didn't view my teachers as human either. They taught. When they were with other teachers, they spoke in tongues. A language, I was certain, I wouldn't understand.

When I get a new class of students, one of the first comments I make to the class is this. "I was a human before I was a teacher." It's true. I was. And it's imperative to me the class has that perspective regarding me. I don't sleep in my filing cabinet. I let them know I go to movies; I grocery shop; I wash dishes; I have a cat. Something about that pet fact sets some of them off.

"YOU HAVE A CAT??? SO DO I!!!" Human Alert! Human Alert!

Shopping in Target, a student spies me but doesn't know I see him. He's with his parent. Suddenly, espionage ensues. The student begins to whisper to the parent, while continually glancing back to make sure I haven't dropped out of sight. Then I notice them, and I wave because I'm too far away to personally greet them. The student waves nonchalantly as much to say, "Oh, hi. (yawn)" while the parent politely ignores me and continues with the mission that brought them there.

I was recently in Urgent Care, as I told you last week. I was sitting there feeling like I had died but no one had had the good sense to bury me. I looked up when I heard, "Mr. Brooks!" Oh good. A student. I look like death warmed over and now I need to be sociable. Greeting the student and his mother ... his mother; oh good, another human. At least she probably understands my plight.

He was there for a physical injury received during sports. I was there because somehow, I had managed to contract a disease already on day four of the school year. What were the chances we'd cross paths then and there? Oh well. I'm human. I get sick.

In my classroom, I use every opportunity to tell stories about my life to my students when it's applicable. There's nothing as sure-fire as an actual story about an actual human event. For one of the short stories I've taught over the years, I have always brought in the story of my mother's death and the period of time I grieved. Students stop whatever they're doing and they listen. They are truly interested in our lives as humans. It's like some strange foreign thing to them. "He had a mother. Gosh."

When I was in college and the original Fame was released to theaters, I remember going to see it. The one scene that stuck with me all these years is the scene when a female teacher is in the hospital, worrying about her husband who is a patient there, and it's a critical moment for the teacher's character. One of her students shows up to argue a grade. Regardless of the teacher's obvious pain over her husband's situation, the student continues to argue, totally unaware this woman a) had a life, and b) had a life that was about to change dramatically.

Many years ago, a group of guys who were graduating were going to make a movie and most of it was going to take place in Cannon Falls on the river and the bluffs area. It was going to be a war movie. Each time they talked to me about it, I had to laugh. These guys couldn't have been more serious about this movie. Here was their plan. They needed me to be there with them that summer when the filming was going to take place. They were going to run off the cliffs into the water below. I was to film the act, making it look like they were jumping out of a helicopter. They were jumping in full military fatigue. I finally agreed. They also wanted me to be their general. One of the guys held a movie premiere night at his mom's house and a major spread of food was laid before us as we watched their movie. These guys obviously saw me as "one of the boys."

Yup. I'm human. Every once in a while, I even need to remind myself, but yes, I was a human before I was a teacher. "Remember man you are human, and to humanhood you shall return."