Monday, July 9, 2012

Why do I teach?

At a recent conference we were asked to write about when we knew we wanted to be teachers.  Arghhh.  As expected everyone in the room, or so it seemed, wrote about how they knew as youngsters that they'd be teachers.  Not me.  Here's what I wrote:

I went to UVA---one of the values espoused there is to explore all areas of study---I did just that.  Any course that looked or sounded neato I invariably raised my hand for and signed on.  Yet, my parents---who helped foot a large % of the cost, yeah M&D, are both in professional/titled fields---a nurse and engineer, respectively.  They were both extremely worried about the prospect of me just “exploring” the liberal arts for 4 years.  When I came home after my 1st year and proudly exclaimed that I’d be majoring in English and Women studies I think they were beside themselves.  They requested that I apply to join the ed-school program.  I suspect that the idea of earning a masters in teaching made them feel that I’d somehow be marketable post college.  If only they knew how ridiculously silly educational pedagogy was/is---or at least my terrible professor.  Ahh, but that’s a topic for another response, at another time.  I dutifully applied, and was accepted.  I honestly figured that I’d just proceed along the path of my liberal arts study and make sure to find room for the required MT classes along the way.
It certainly started out that way---anyhow.  I realized that my default attitude about education and teaching was not the norm after my first methods class.  We were asked to sit in a circle---all 50 of us, and go around and share the moment we knew we wanted to be teachers.  Gulp.  Well this was going to be hard.  I didn’t want to be a teacher.  I was 19.  I was going to NYC .  I was going to work at a magazine.  I was going to work on a manuscript of my own.  I was going to read and edit.  I wasn’t EVER going back to school, much less high school.  For god’s sake.  I was smack in the middle of this large circle and was not really listening to what anyone had to say---I literally watched the clock tick away.  We were at over 30 used up minutes of a 60 minute class hearing one person to the next explain how they knew after getting their first set of number two pencils and crayons that they would go into teaching and that it was the ONLY thing they wanted to do in this life! I had no idea what I ought to do---should I just parrot out a similar tale?  Would I be found out as a confederate?  Would the tale scream lie or might I have the talent to be shy and demure and quietly get away with it?  Or should I be brutally honest---that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, because after all we were all young, that there was no reason we should even have to choose.  That this was not an era or age when folks had to enter a career field.  No one worked for a company or in a field for their entire lives anymore, right?  Or would that be offensive to all those who went before me?  Was there something wrong with me that I didn’t know?  How did all these people already know?  They were smarter than me!  All these questions, scenarios, insecurities, fears, annoyances, and anger came up.  Honestly by the time they got to me I had no idea what I planned to say or do---I blurted out a joke first:  “Well teachers get summers off, and that’s my favorite season.”  The room erupted in laughter and to my happy, happy surprise, when the chuckling died off the woman to my left eagerly provided her inspiration and I was out of the spotlight.
I found a select few within my program over the next three years who too shared an ambivalence and concern about what it was the world held for us.  However, I was lucky to have been forced into so many various observations and random teaching stints, and practice positions.  It was on the drive out to a middle school in the small town of Crozet that it dawned on me that the excitement and nervousness that I felt in the pit of my stomach was something good.  The unknown of what I’d find behind the classroom door on any given day, the open eyes of some kids, the closed downcast eyes of others, the furtive looks of a few were the reason I wanted to get to school.  The freedom to create existed in the classroom.  The success of a lesson was affirming and inspiring.  On the flip side the failure was heartbreaking.  But there was a comfort in the failure---because M-F, Sept-June offered day after day of opportunity to right that wrong, to fix the former error.  The most wonderful thing about the classroom was that each class period, each unit, every book, every quarter offered a clean fresh slate.  Much like a clean sheet of paper.  Or the first page to a new book.
And so like the many students who I mocked secretly on that first day of Instructional Methods 400 with Prof. -----, I knew I had found something I might invest in for a bit.
This year I look forward to opening my classroom door, for the 17th year.