Shtickmeister!

Posted on November 30, 2010Filed Under Mark Twain, Outside links | Leave a Comment

I’m going to begin by quoting myself. I get to do that because it’s my blog. This one is from fall 2008.

One of the things I like to say about teaching junior high is down at the bottom of this page in the footer. You’re too lazy to scroll, aren’t you? Fine. “Five shows a day, 180 days a year.” And there aren’t many crowds tougher than 7th graders.

“This is boring.” The worst of all sins.

Most of us who teach junior high have a shtick. A role we play, some isms we like to use again and again. Idiosyncrasies we play up for entertainment/attention value (oh the sharing I get when we talk about that word idiosyncrasy during “Monsters are Due on Maple Street“). The key is to make the shtick such a natural part of the classroom routine, that it doesn’t distract too much. Well, sometimes we do need the distraction.

Here’s one from earlier that fall, talking about The Outsiders, chapter two. (I guess, given the name of this blog, I should refer to the novel now and then.)

…Then we get to how Cherry can actually open up to Pony, unlike around her “friends” and how she always has to keep up an image. I stopped there and asked them, “How many of you are a different person around your parents from the one you are around your friends?” Most of them raised their hands. “How many of you are yet a different person around Gramma?” Most hands again. “How many of you are a different person when you are by yourself?” Same. Same. Maybe even more. “So. Which one is the real you?” You can almost see the steam coming out of their ears.

If you’ve been doing this job long enough, you most likely have a persona, a Mr./Mrs./Ms. So-and-So character, that while it might closely overlap your real personality, will have significant differences. You might exaggerate certain qualities (crabbiness, quirkiness) for effect, or downplay others, to create a stage presence. Some people have a real-life personality that translates well into the classroom. One of my colleagues who retired  several years ago was one of those. The gentle but firm mom thing. I still don’t see how she did this job for 25+ years WITHOUT YELLING ONCE! She was the master of the, “I’m so disappointed in you…” But most of us, I don’t think, have that sort of  mojo, even in real life, so most of us have an alter ego.

I was just reading a very groovy review of the first volume of Mark Twain’s “autobiography” which he stipulated be published 100 years after his death. Of course, in this day and age, most of it has been leaked over the years, but I guess this is the first time it’s all coming out at once.

The consensus is that it’s a rambling, Mark Twain mess, with nuggets of wisdom and hilarity, buried amid the less-than-organized random reminiscing. Oh, and with some good, vitriolic ranting to boot.

This reviewer’s idea was that the reason for this was that Mark Twain was a persona, a shtickmeister, who was supposed to be funny and sarcastic and so forth. A shtickmeister can’t write an honest autobiography because an honest autobiography wouldn’t always be funny (especially with MT’s tragic personal life). So since Sam Clemens didn’t write it, Mark Twain did, we can’t expect it to be an actual autobiography.

Nobody knew the value of a good shtick better than Mark Twain.

Here’s the review.

Shtickmeister. I like it.

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