You want to be a teacher. You want to be a teacher?
My college has a new articulation agreement with a university, so now we are able to offer students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education without leaving Helena. Sometimes we have students who take their first two years of college education with us and then transfer to a college somewhere else to complete their education degrees. I have tw0 of those students in my creative writing class this semester; one is a man, and he’s fabulous and will make a wonderful industrial arts instructor. The other is a woman, and she wants to teach English. English.
Why does that make me sad?
I can’t help it; every time someone tells me that he or she wants to be a teacher, my initial reaction is sadness, maybe even fear. I feel an overwhelming need to try to change their minds, but, of course, I don’t try. I would never want to rain on anyone’s parade, and I remember myself a mere twelve years ago, starting my education, hoping to be a teacher, excited at the possibilities. Today, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, ever.
Here’s the thing: I do daydream about it sometimes. When things get crazy busy in the middle of the semester, and students aren’t performing the way I think they can, and the administration is trying to wring one-more-little-responsibility out of our already heavily-burdened schedules, and my weekends are filled with grading papers, planning lessons, answering email messages, and trying to catch up on sleep only to find that Monday morning arrives ever-earlier, I wonder what it would be like to work 8-5, Monday through Friday, manufacturing widgets! It’s then that I don’t want to work with humans, those messy, defiant, complicated, and troubled people who enter my classroom. I long for a simple job, one that allows me to sleep through the entire night and not wake in the morning having dreamt about students, colleagues, and evil spirits.
Teaching is really, really difficult. We try to teach content, but we’re really teaching humans, and the variables from day to day, or even moment to moment, are myriad. My students, in particular, have so many things going on in their lives that I sometimes marvel that they are successful at all. Jobs, most work, and many employers are less than sympathetic to a college student’s academic responsibilities; kids, some have them, and they rarely stay healthy or out of jail; spouses, sometimes they’re supportive but more often they’re the ones needing support; friends, their friends want to PARTY! Then there’s me, glaring at them from the podium, scolding them for subpar work, pleading with them to remember their priorities; school is temporary, but work is forever.
Really?? You think you want that life? From midterm until near the end of each semester, my favorite go-to daydream is thinking about what else I’m qualified to do, but then we end up here: the almost end, and everything changes.
It’s kind of miraculous, really. In some strange form of alchemy, students who have persevered somehow seem to pull it together. Instead of blank stares or barely concealed hostility, I see lights going on and engagement taking place. Good students morph into excellent students, moderate students into good students, and weak students show promising growth and potential; it’s like spring, only cold. There’s nothing like it, really. Miraculous, magical, whatever it is, it feels so damn incredibly wonderful that I have a vow-renewal with myself and my career. We love each other desperately, like newlyweds, again.
Is that how you want to live your life? The politics of teaching and the emotional and mental demands take their tolls, and if I truly knew what I had been in for, I’m not sure if I would have become a teacher. It would have frightened me. I like to sleep, and I don’t like feeling as if I am responsible for the futures of the students in my classes, but I do.
Caitlan is a student in one of my classes. She rang my office at 4:00 p.m. today and asked if I had time to see her. She came to my cubicle with a Christmas gift: no, no, no, said I. Gifts are frowned upon and illegal if they are valuable. She didn’t care. It was homemade candles and soaps, a bath bomb (which she had to tell me how to use), all wrapped in lovely paper and accompanied with a letter to me.
She’s not the only student who has expressed her deep appreciation, and her expression is actually fairly typical, but it always takes me by surprise. It also reminds me why I do what I do, and why no matter how fearful I am for students who want to teach, I could never try to dissuade them. In the Bible, 2 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
So, you want to be a teacher?