The Proud Legacy of TV Talk Shows
by jake selikoff
Why am I a teacher? Sounds like I am going to wax inspirational, doesn’t it? Actually, I have no idea why I have been a teacher for almost 25 years. I especially wonder why I have taught for so long at career colleges that advertise on television during Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones and Ricki Lake. I guess one could mention the fact that, although we make no money, teachers help and motivate their students to be good citizens and make educated, informed decisions as part of a necessary set of success skills. Plus, at career colleges, we help people to upgrade their lives by teaching them skills that will get them off welfare, out of subsidized housing, and pay them good salaries—if they will only finish their course work. Hopefully these new skills will at least keep them from appearing on Springer, Jones or Lake. But times are changing, and human behavior is definitely not the same as it was when I was in school. I often wonder if I am even making a dent in the evolution of the human beings I currently teach…
Perhaps humans are devolving. For example, who decided that it is a good idea to share every problem that you have with anybody who will listen? Have we learned this from watching “reality” television? Who decided that that is reality? My adult students not only share, they brag about their problems and life situations. They boast to each other about every disorder and dysfunction that befalls them—even if they have to make it up. They lord their tragedies over each other in a sophisticated game of one-upsmanship you wouldn’t believe unless you experienced it every day as we teachers do. It is as if the most downtrodden gets to win the first-place ribbon.
And why do I care about this phenomenon? Because I worry about the future of our world. Children only imitate the nonsense of their parents. And sorry, Mr. Mormon Dude, but insanity is propagated through the family unit. When I meet certain so-called adults who have engaged in becoming parents, I often feel abject terror for this planet’s fate. Case in point: I would like you to meet my Algebra student.
She walked into my classroom with a very sad and downcast expression. “Mr. Selikoff, may I talk to you in private?” she asked. “Sure,” I said, as we both stepped outside into the hallway where (I thought) nobody would hear us. I had no idea what she wanted to say to me. Perhaps she had to miss the upcoming midterm exam and wanted to know if she could make it up later. Wrong.
“I wanted you to know that my husband left me and has taken everything. Well, good riddance! He is such an asshole. I don’t know how I am going to make my rent and utility payments,” she said frantically, her voice at a fortissimo level for all in the building to hear. I simply watched her, waiting to find out how this involved me. “And what will my two kids do?” I still waited, but when she finally asked “Huh?!?” so loudly that other instructors were sticking their heads out of their classrooms to see what was wrong, I saw that she expected me to answer.
“Well, I don’t know how I can help you,” I finally replied. “I am not married, nor do I have children, and I haven’t experienced anything like this. Perhaps you could speak with our Student Advisor in room 417.”
“I’ve already told her all about this earlier today. And I’ve told the head of my department. All my instructors know, except you. I was holding off on telling you because I really wanted your advice.” I didn’t follow the logic there, but I reiterated that I cannot, and do not, want to advise students in their personal lives. Nor, frankly, was I interested. I told her that I had to get back to class because we only had five minutes before it was to begin.
“But, Mr. Selikoff, you don’t understand. I’m bipolar, you know.” I didn’t know. “And my doctor told me that I shouldn’t use public rest rooms because of a childhood experience of being raped in a public bathroom by my Aunt.” I asked her what this had to do with her husband’s leaving her. “He probably had had it with me.” No kidding. “And he tried to shoot some guy he thought I was having an affair with. He keeps claiming that I ask all the men I know out on dates. So, I wanted to find out from you what I should do.”
Holy minestrone, Batman! I wasn’t getting involved in this to save my life! I told her that I had no advice, but she continued—all the while beginning to speak faster and faster, louder and louder. “When I went to a therapist last month, she told me that I have borderline personality disorder. And she was right, of course. I do,” she admitted proudly. A part of me actually pitied her, not because I believed a word of what she was saying, but because I now realized that she had gone through life trying to get sympathy and manipulate others in this way. This was a cry for help, though. What help did she need? Was I wrong not to care? After all, I am her teacher, not her social worker. I admitted to her that I thought she looked awful, and asked her if she was sleeping at nights.
“Oh, no! Never! I can’t sleep now that my doctor has given me Elavoid, plus some Benzinoidal Ascorbus Mithrate. I think that it is mixing badly with all the Phizac and Sterinol I have been taking since I was in seventh grade.” Good grief! As it was becoming difficult to take her seriously, she topped it all off with: “Last night I drank most of a five-liter box of red wine to help me get some sleep, but I’ve always been allergic to red wine, and it only made me sick. So I was up all night vomiting.”
I asked her how her two children were coping with all of this. “My 11-year-old son keeps getting in trouble with the other kids, so I have to pick him up daily from the principal’s office. My 8-year-old daughter has ADHD, and doesn’t get along with her teacher at all. Obviously this teacher and principal are incompetent, because my kids are little angels.” Perhaps anybody wanting to breed should be made to take a parental proficiency test first. Hopefully, my student and those like her would not pass it. I asked her how she felt about her husband, and she surprised me with even more illogic:
“I love him and wish he would come back to me. He is so sweet. Do you know how great our sex life is?” Whoa! I told her that our conversation was over, and that I had to begin class. I motioned her toward the classroom, but before she would enter, she angrily had to add: “So, you are no different than any of my other teachers! You don’t care at all about me. You’re worse than my no-good husband!” So there.
She stopped attending class altogether after that. She missed all the exams and turned in none of the homework. (Of course, the School Director blamed me for adding to the attrition problem) And when I gave her the “F” that she so desperately deserved, she came to school shortly after to ask me why she failed my class. When I explained the obvious to her, she simply smiled and said, “That’s OK. Things are getting so much better in my life now that I have dropped out of school for the fourth time. I don’t have to worry about my husband any more. He is in jail where he belongs—tried once again to kill a guy he thought was dating me. And the state has taken my kids away from me. I have finally gotten my life together, Mr. Selikoff! Aren’t you proud of me?”
Incredulous, I could only fake a smile and congratulate her on her “achievement.” For a brief moment, an image of the faces of Jerry, Jenny and Ricki—mediocrity’s Holy Trinity—flashed into my mind. Then, all I could think of saying was a lie about how much the school would miss her now that she had dropped out again. With a huge smile revealing several missing teeth and overcoming her disfigured face, she said:
“Well, you don’t have to miss me. I was wondering, Mr. Selikoff, didn’t you say you are single?”