The last time I told someone I was a history teacher, I couldn’t decide what the expression on his face meant. With his head tilted back, an embarrassed grin stretched thin like an elastic band between his ears. In his eyes, I thought I could see the words, “Those who can’t, teach.” Maybe it was more like, “History? What’s the point of that?” In retrospect, it was probably the latter because there wasn’t a follow-up question. There never is. No one wants to know what kind of history I teach.
I might have it wrong, though. Body language, facial cues, picking up a specific tone in conversations — these aren’t my strong suits. Someone might even accuse me of being a touch autistic, which would make an excellent excuse to stop all but the most necessary social interactions.
But alas, my dear old wife, Katherine, had me tested. I am not far enough on the spectrum to get the good antipsychotics sometimes offered to aggressive-autistics. And after informing my doctor that he should see a specialist for the impressive mound of dandruff on his desk, a pile big enough to roll into a decorative dandruff man, he understood my wife’s dilemma. In what I considered an unprofessional and hyperbolic diagnosis, he said that being an asshole was not synonymous with Asperger’s. The nerve of some people!
Please understand I’m not upset that no one asks about the kind of history I teach. I don’t necessarily want to explain my discipline to others. It’s painful enough lecturing students who would rather set fire to each other than listen to my rousing anecdote about how rotten teeth were a fashion accessory in sixteenth-century England. Unfortunately, neither the fire nor the teeth are figurative.
To clarify, if I were to list my area of specialization on a professional curriculum vitae, a vast array of British history, from the Tudors to the Hanoverians, would impress its reader. Unless the reader was a student or staff member at Fairfield High School, in which case my CV would be filed in recycling.
Early in my career, one college in Des Moines expressed an interest in my core competencies, but Katherine was seven months pregnant with our daughter, Victoria. We were worried about the added dangers caused by Katherine’s preeclampsia, so decided it best to wait until after our daughter’s birth. The doctor advised that she should induce preterm labor. She did. Despite everyone’s best efforts, Victoria was born with cerebral palsy. After that, teaching at a college seemed less important.
Life’s different now. As much as I’d like to find a more academic environment in which to toil, I’ll be retiring in six years and don’t care to make any changes. Even if I wanted to go, there aren’t as many open seats for professors of classical British history as there used to be.