At a dinner party recently in the small New England town where I live, I was asked for the umpteenth time what it?s like teaching at a public school. I used to get that question a lot when I taught at a high school in one of L.A.?s toughest neighborhoods ? people expected war stories of guns and violence, but I had none. Now, even though I teach in a very small city, I still get asked in a tone which suggests I?m either a little nuts or just too lazy to get a job which doesn?t give the summer off.
So I decided to write a kind of credo to explain to myself why I teach, why I love teaching, and why I believe it is an important profession.
I became a teacher because I believe teaching is the last bastion of the idealist in an otherwise indifferent America.
I believe it is my duty to impart to my students not only the knowledge required to meet state standards with proficiency; but the knowledge that in the United States of America it IS true that all people are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with that equality.
I believe that it is in our public schools where America?s great promises and honorable intentions must be met in the breech, or discarded as beyond our ability and unrepresentative of our true goal.
I believe like Socrates, that goodness can be taught.
I believe in ?Literacy With Attitude? — that you teach literacy so that students can go out and conquer the world through peaceful means.
I believe that any student not provided with the best possible education imaginable has been deprived of a basic human right, and has grounds to seek redress for such a grievance.
I believe that the relationship between student and teacher is a sacred bond and trust not to be broken nor toyed with, no matter how many years one has been teaching nor the mountain of war stories one?s collected to try to prove that young people are not worthy of a teacher?s best efforts.
I further believe that the role of a teacher is to be a student?s best ally, that my role is not one of suppressor, but rather liberator.
I believe that as a teacher I must always strive to enjoy my students? company, and to let them enjoy mine.
And because I believe these things is why I repeat each and every day I am in the classroom the following prayer: ?Gods of the classroom,
let this place be a place of learning today, and let me be an instrument in that learning. Let me deal equitably with all my students. Help me to save some of my best energy for last period. And above all to remember that Ignorance is mere clay upon a potter?s wheel.
Joe Gannon taught high school in South Central L.A. for four years and now teaches 8th grade at the Sullivan School in Holyoke MA
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.