Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Teaching...maybe I WILL run for president.

Yes, it is wonderful to have summers off. But honestly, do people pick their career because of that? Ok, they may start off thinking how easy it is, how great it is to have a teacher's schedule, but I think that is why new teachers burn out after just 5 years.

Correction, that is why some teachers burn out after 5 years. Some people choose teaching and others are chosen. Maybe. What do I know? It's 12:30AM and I can't sleep. I have woken up two times already and each time I was thinking about my teaching and my students/classes today.

It is like parenting some days, you wake up and say, "Wait! What did I say/not say to that kid today?" "Was that student spoken to by anyone today?" "Did I make an effort to make sure...?" "Did I get to that point I was trying to make when so-and so threw that paper and I had to stop...?"

In other words you lay in bed and wonder and pray that you can be the teacher each student needs. And with class sizes increasing and with teaching an extra class this year (did I mention there is no longer extra pay for teaching extra classes? Instead I feel grateful not to have to be the one to bring about vigilante justice in hallways and study halls as a supervisory?) that's an awful lot of students to worry about.

I went through the astronaut phase, the police officer phase, and even the soldier phase (people who know me will be surprised by that one!) as I grew up, but the one I always returned to was TEACHER. My favorite people were teachers.

Even the ones who taught classes I was not good at ((coughmathcough)) were always somehow able to teach me something and make school a good safe place for a kid who felt out of step with her peers in almost every way. I could do school.

I was a joiner. I was in everything from French club, to Students for Social Responsibility, to track and field hockey. I was in honors, but not the super smart honors kid, the one who loved to learn but never seemed to truly get the good test scores. Ever.

As I've mentioned before I've been having memory issues (waking up at 12:30AM to write might be part of the cause), but I remember sitting in certain classes. I remember Mr Merrow teaching The Scarlet Letter , I remember feeling like an unveiling was happening as he showed us what symbolism was. I remember memorizing lines from Shakespeare for another class. I remember my 12th grade science trip, a week at the beach doing biology that was shortened by the deaths of two teachers and one student, all unrelated. I remember art classes, music, history....

School for me was a haven. A place where although I may not have fitted with my peers (now I know--who does in high school??), I knew the teachers were there for me. There was a cushion from the outside world where I got to put on my training wheels and explore before I stepped out. I somehow felt connected to something bigger than me.

So becoming a teacher was never about summers off. It was never about the pay (haha, I will be paying off my loans, for ever). It has always been about the kids. The ones who keep me up at night. The ones who make me smile, laugh, cry, get angry.

Teaching a lesson, connecting it to the outside world and hearing students say, "Wait! What's going on in Egypt? Oh! I heard something about that...." Then having them start conversations and make connections with new, self-researched info that they've learned and have connected to the classics we are reading in class weeks afterward...THAT. IS. POWERFUL.

I was lecturing about how important it is for them to not be the ones who 'get info' from a classmate because of laziness, rather they need to be the ones who stick with a problem until they understand it for themselves. That is what is going to change this world, I tell them. Afterward realizing I silenced the class, I wondering how far off topic they thought I was, I hoped they would take the time to see the relevancy, when one student raised his hand and said, "If you ran for president I would vote for you!"

That is why I teach. I teach to make a difference. I teach to make presidents. I teach to give that kid who feels unconnected from his peers, a place, a safe place where he can explore his thoughts and find books that will make him feel he has a place. I teach so that girl who has been ashamed to show she is smart can square her shoulders and say, "I am smart and it's okay." I teach to encourage the best, whatever path is chosen: president, politician, mechanic, doctor, pilot, teacher. I teach to show them they do have options. I teach to show them they are connected to this world, they have a place.

"I teach because I can" seems cliche, but the reason some people burn out in 5 years isn't the paperwork bombardment, it's because teaching is. hard. work. It keeps you awake. You worry about your kids every day. They are your kids. And then they move on and you get a new batch, guess what? The ones who left? They are still your kids and you still worry. And the new ones? Yep, they become yours and it all begins again. So, you wake up at 12:30AM and you worry about them just like your 'own kids' and you hope that somehow, with some one you made a difference. But you don't always know. And they might not come back to tell you until after 5 years, so you don't get to see your 'product' or the imprint you left on their brain. If you ever do.

And that is a hard thing for a lot of people. I think my kids get more than good test taking skills from me. I think they get that stuff that can't be measured. I try to encourage the curiosity to learn, to make connections. Even as parents we can't measure our own parenting skills by the career paths our children choose. We just hope we gave them the skills to find or create their path/spot in the world, and make that world better. At least that's what I hope I'm doing at 12:30 AM.

And in the summers, I sleep. And then I figure out how to do it better before I start with a new batch of fresh faces, different minds....

1 comment:

Suelle said...

Great post V! I'm going to share it with my husband--he teaches high school German.
I think it's interesting that you call your students your "kids" too. Once I was talking at work about Alan taking his kids to Germany for a trip in the summer & one of my co-workers thought they were his bio kids from a previous relationship!! But hey, they are his kids. And like you said, they always are.