Consider the life of a celebrity: privilege, excessive wealth, beauty (or the ability to purchase it), adoring fans, stalkers, opening every magazine to see your face (pimples included) entire websites dedicated to the minutiae of your daily life. This is all achingly desirable to some, i.e. Idols contestants, but take it from me it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I’m not a celebrity, but rather something more closely scrutinized, criticized but sadly, less influential: a teacher.
Yes, being a teacher can indeed be compared to being a celebrity. Obviously the wealth, status, privilege bit is incomparable, as teachers have none of the above, but many of my experiences of the last few years would not be out of place in a glossy magazine article about the highs and lows of Paris’ life.
I do rather enjoy a spot of Saturday morning retail therapy. It is my crutch, my elixir of life. I like to peruse the aisles of Gateway’s finest establishments happily lost in daydreams of having the wealth, status, privilege bit. I walk into The Space, inhale the scented air and proceed to caress the exquisite fabrics from which the clothes are made. I can see myself gliding into the next parent-teacher evening clad in this beautiful but not low-cut, short or tight item and feeling all eyes on me, when my reverie is broken by a breathy, giggly voice.
“Look, there’s Miss Botha!”
I close my eyes and continue to think happy thoughts as my fans engage in what they think is whispered conversation about whether to come over and say “Hi.” (Did you say “Hi” to your teachers back in the day? I didn’t think so.) Whilst the debate rages, I pray that the outcome is “No, she is having a lovely morning, she doesn’t want to be disturbed by reminders of the stresses and strains of daily life in the form of us.” Alas, the outcome is:
“Hi, Miss Botha! How are you? What are you buying? Is it expensive? Are you going on a date?”
The worst is invariably when they want to move in to give you a hug (A hug! Did you hug your teachers in exclusive boutiques back in the day?). I maintain an hermetically sealed bubble around myself whilst walking the hallowed corridors of the school so why do they feel that they may take the liberty in a shopping mall?
We all smile fake smiles, whilst I politely enquire about the 12 hours that have passed since we last saw one another.
Another celebrity-esque feature of my life is how many people recognize me whilst I do not recognize them. I am a high school teacher so I most certainly do not know all the parents of our learners. I have become exceedingly paranoid whilst out in public. I can do a quick survey of any public venue and spot a teenage girl from my school at 50 paces, but their parents are an unknown quantity and quite frankly, it messes with my mind. Picture this: walking through the Hypermarket and glancing left and right like an escaped convict as I guiltily slip the giant bag of M&Ms into my basket. The woman looking at the crab sticks next to me shoots me a sideways glance and my mind races – is she the mother of the kid I gave a good bollocking to last Friday for not doing her homework. Or, maybe, she’s the aunty of the one who was issued a detention slip with my autograph on it. I tend to simply plaster an expression of distracted serenity on my face and always smile when smiled at, hoping that I won’t be recognised.
This particular problem has been exacerbated lately by the fact that we now have a marketing officer at our school. I am in equal parts flattered and disturbed by how often this has resulted in my picture appearing in a variety of local publications. I am variously attired in funny outfits, funny hats, funny face-paint or funny hairstyles. I have no time to touch up my lipstick or take a cover stick to the chorb which has taken up residence on the end of my nose, reinforcing my students’ perception that I am a witch. And it’s all there for the world (alright just Durban North, but just as bad) to see. I have friends of my grandmother’s, my mother’s, old school friends and long-lost cousins phoning me up or contacting me on Facebook to say they saw me in the Northglen News. I am unfailing gracious and courteous to these bearers of news although I am certainly cringing inside, especially when I have a sneaky suspicion that the picture is of me dressed in my grade 10s’ creation made of nothing but Sunflower Fund bandanas and safety pins. To their credit, I am, at least, decent. The final straw came when my sister declared it “a bad publicity week” when I was not featured in any of the local publications delivered to our home. Worse, was when my mother breezily reminded her that it was the holidays, so not to worry.
Like a celebrity, certain venues are out of bounds for me and others of my ilk. Any nightclub that professes to be over 18 is blatantly lying. I know. I frequently enter Durban night clubs and run straight into a bunch of my Matric students who, most often, ignore me and then magnanimously greet me with “I saw you at Joe’s on Friday, Miss” on Monday morning. Occasionally, there is a variation on the whispered conversation which takes place in the shops, but this time they have no hope of whispering and the “Hi’s” have a distinct slshhhl tacked onto the end. I cannot even console myself with the fact that I am completely teetotal and therefore have no chance of making a fool out of myself because these girls are certainly not teetotalers and I probably appear, in their intoxicated state, just as intoxicated myself. My poor long-suffering boyfriend has had many a night out cut short by panicked hisses of “Matrics! Grade 11s! We have to go, NOW!” I imagine that this is how Lindsay and Britney must feel about the paparazzi.
So, I think that, like all celebrities, I shall invest in a wig and some dark glasses and, like all teachers, continue to daydream about the wealth, privilege and status bit whilst keeping my paranoia in check.