I believe in my job. I know it seems impossible, after all the miserably failed policies and programs in education, but I do. Even as I write, I’m sniffling with the onset of a cold, contracted no doubt from those adolescent germ-bags I call my students.
Obviously, no one gets into teaching for the money. Some get into it for the “cushy” schedule, but that only lasts until you get to the end of that first summer “off” and realize that after you took your classes, got caught up on your reading, and took care of all the things you blew off to make it through the winter, that you’ve only just begun to decompress. I got into the high school scene by default. But even though teaching juniors wasn’t my intention, I do believe that it was God’s. I connected deeply with my students and we plumbed the depths of literature and writing as though our lives depended upon it. I think now, because our lives depended on it. Some of my most touching feedback has come from these first students.
One such student recently “found” me through the internet. Her emailed confession that I had inspired her made me cry. It’s all any aspiring teacher really wants, is to matter. Those early classes had meant something; that was the sad part, when I thought of my classes today. Today, a teacher’s passion for the subject matter does not drive the curriculum. Test results do. Connecting with kids is harder to do when you’re delivering someone else’s jam-packed agenda, and when so many kids are coming from the equivalent of nuclear testing sites instead of nurturing families.
But of course, that’s why I believe in my job even more. Trust me, there have been weeks when the parade of scornful emails and administrators with clipboards just made me wish they would fire me and get it over with. There were times when, like General Buford at Gettysburg in Killer Angels, I could so clearly see the inevitable and pending disaster born of poor directives, and the sheer stupidity of it was enough to drive me suddenly and completely insane. There have been times when the kids’ lack of motivation or accountability, the state mandates, and administrative pressures make it quite clear that it is indeed best NOT to care. I see plenty of faculty who don’t care, and they have it so easy: no inspections of their classroom practices, no collection of their assessments and grade distribution percentages.
But, I can’t help it. I do care. I care if what I’m teaching is trash. I care that they didn’t really read the book that could have mattered to them. I care if they can’t construct a sentence. The worst? I care that kids don’t care. I really still believe that all these things are connected to a productive and well adjusted life. I believe I can convince kids that caring about their lives hurts less than not caring, especially when the collateral damage is measured in terms of family members or friends who have to watch them spiral and crash. I believe that what I can teach them about life, through literature, will make them richer human beings. I believe that if they can write well, the world is theirs. Stupidly, blindly optimistically, I believe.
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