Ask me to explain symbolism in Gatsby or the narrative structure of Frankenstein. I can tell you two secrets that can help you interpret almost any poem. Who or whom – no problem. I can show you how to structure an essay, improve your style, and find your voice. This is the part of teaching that I walked out of college knowing how to do.
College did not prepare me to sit in a funeral with several students while we watched a 17 year old say good-bye to her mother which happened last week. Or go to a funeral of a student. College did not prepare me to respond to a student who tells me she is pregnant and she doesn’t know how to tell her parents. College did not prepare me to sit across from a parent during a conference who tells me through tears they have no idea why their child is struggling or what else they can do for him. College did not prepare me to be a guidance counselor, academic adviser, or role model, but I am all of these on a daily basis. Honestly, I’m not sure how to actually prepare for this part of the job.
Teachers are held accountable for teaching the standards, assessing students properly, giving constructive feedback, and getting students ready for standardized tests. I am paid to do this, and most teachers I know do a good job at this. But that’s the baseline of teaching, and my reward comes from relationships that go beyond content. If I have just taught English, I have fallen short on my goal as a teacher. I’m hoping to teach the 2Cs – communication (written and oral) and character (public and private).
I was reminded of something that I wrote earlier in my career that sums up a teacher’s life. I am reposting and telling you this so I will not be accused of self-plagiarism (yes, that’s a real thing). And while this was written by me about me, I submit this not out of a look-at-me-attitude but a this-is-a-typical-teacher’s-life perspective.
“Who would have thought that teaching American literature would have me coaching powder puff (back-to-back champs), sweating and freezing in the bleachers of too many different types of sporting events to count, playing piano for five theatre productions, writing countless college and scholarship recommendations each year, attending recitals, viewing art shows, making hospital visits, and sadly even going to funeral homes? I’ve celebrated and cried with students. I’ve cried for students. This is what teachers do. And while we do this out of love and concern for our students, the reward in the classroom is an added bonus to knowing that we have done what we set out to do in teaching – impact lives.”