Friday, May 30, 2014

Why I'm a teacher

Teachers are the easiest people in the world to make fun of, mmkay. I personally have had some doozies for teachers, despite going to a prestigious high school and claiming to be a kind-hearted individual.

One horrible teacher that comes to mind was an extremely unhealthy Spanish teacher, who happened to be Caucasian. Each day, he would start class by violently coughing for five minutes, then he would say, "Just pull out something to work on. OK?" He's got to be dead by now.

Another thing I'll never forget was in seventh grade when my math grade was a 96 percent, and I got a B plus. I went to the teacher and said, "My percentage was 96. Isn't that an A?"

She responded, "Well, yes. But an A is very special, and you just didn't have that special quality to get an A." I asked, "Did anyone get an A?" She said, "Well, yes, Melissa. Just Melissa." I later asked Melissa her percentage. She said 91. Honestly, I can't believe I still remember this episode, but I actually did learn from it.

So, I have been writing this blog for five years, and I've never written about why I'm a high-school teacher. When people ask me why I'm a teacher, I typically play the "noble profession" card. It is true that I have a chance at positively influencing a student, and I believe that typically happens by giving that student attention, being a good listener and not judging.

Officially, I try to help a student's writing and reading levels and help them put out an award-winning Yearbook, and that does happen. But, unofficially, I just try to model being a real person, be in the moment and have fun.
The best thing about being a teacher: the students. The worst thing about being a teacher: other teachers.

The downside to being a high-school teacher is the misery of my colleagues. I am unsure the percentage of miserable teachers out there, but by my standards, it's at least half. How do I know this? Well, it's because they complain about the students.

The whole reason I'm in a classroom is because I like these peculiar, finding-their-way, I-don't-know-how-to-read kids. The buck stops with me. When I get a student who is basically illiterate, yet somehow is enrolled in an "AP English language" class, I love it. The kid has so many other skills to compensate for reading and writing that I got to give some sort of thumbs up to that.

Being a teacher means being an active behavioral psychologist. Humans act in patterns, and you got to finesse those patterns to teach. Nothing is more important than the first week of school. You set it all up there, and if you falter then, you can be doomed.

You also have to play to the audience while still being you. My mentor once told me, "You were born to do this." He then had student-teachers observe me every other day for two years in the hopes of them understanding how to handle their profession. Yeah, teaching also is a funky thing, and it makes me think of this awesome article by Malcolm Gladwell, comparing teachers to NFL quarterbacks.

At my current school, there is no mentor system, and people never really observe. The teachers blame the administration, but in reality, the teachers likely suck. Oh well. The students exclusively know what's up. And that's good enough for me.
So why am I a teacher? I can think of no other profession that can help me feel so good about myself, so fulfilled, so worthwhile.

I like to think of myself as the "dad you wish you had." I may come from a social class in which being a high-school teacher may not be considered a success. But with my value system, I believe it is. Yes, teachers are historically underpaid. But there are the perks of the off time and the rewards of actually doing something that matters.

If I had to do it all over again, would I do anything different? ... I don't think so. The best teachers I've run across haven't been exclusively teachers. The all-your-life teachers seem to have no frame of reference for how the world works. Would I want my daughters in their classes? ... Not really.

Making a run of it as some type of writer was a fun jaunt for me, and I got a staff job at age 22. I like that storyline, and I'm at peace with doing this profession and ... living in the moment. Am I fulfilled doing this job? To a certain degree, yes. Do I feel I need to do anything else? Who knows? Maybe this summer, I'll finally start "The Snooze Button Generation: The Novel."

1 comment:

  1. Joe, I can honestly say this is the perfect profession for you. I've obviously never seen you at work in the classroom, but you just have one of those personalities. Wish I'd had more teachers like you :)