Jezebel’s site redesign makes it impossible to link to a particular story now, or at least makes it harder than I care to bother doing. For the background to this blog entry, you can go over to Jezebel and find three stories about teachers doing things to their students ranging from awful to reprehensible. I’ll let you guess which I think is which.
I seriously considered teaching. That is, when I was laid off, I fulfilled a long time dream and entered an alternate certification program, passed the test to certify to teach 4th–8th graders, and substitute taught while I was job hunting. My friend, Linda, and I were in the same certification program, and we were both dismayed at the number of people in the class who should probably never even be 100 yards from a child, much less 5 feet away, and in charge of molding their brains.
I know women and men who are wonderful teachers, like Deborah, one of our early WWK profilees. There were fantastic teachers in my education. Mrs. Farr in AP English my senior year, Dr. Chaisson, who taught me Classics for several semesters, Mrs. Barnes, my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Mendina, the World History teacher in 10th grade, who quite truly saved me from taking a very wrong turn. These were teachers who cared about their students as human beings, cared about their subjects as art forms, and understood that at least half of their jobs had to do with taking largely unformed lumps of student clay and teaching them to behave.
I am always surprised when teachers are surprised that children act like animals. I think they must not ever have met any children. I am also surprised when teachers are surprised that teenagers are rotten to their hormone driven little cores. We’ve all been teenagers. We’ve all been rotten. Some of you were likely a much sweeter version of rotten than I, but it is unavoidable. Kids are hard, hard work.
I said teenagers have cores. I’m not sure I mean that. My mental picture of students has a lot to do with external energy coming from a hollow that houses a red hot gas–like a star–like the sun. These children are full of power, energy, vitality, and are in a constant flux of molten particles. The only thing solid about them is their skin.
What teachers do is introduce cooling, solidifying elements into those gases, and eventually, enough elements are introduced that a core starts to form. By the time a child reaches his senior year, there should be enough of that core to produce some rational, reasonable sensibility–enough to propel him forward to higher learning (be it at the university level, or on the job training.) Children who are not introduced to enough elements never learn to reason, think for themselves, or produce for themselves.
See, not every child has a good parent, but every child in the US has at least twelve government-sanctioned years of opportunity to meet a good teacher (assuming their parents get them to school.) And one good teacher can provide the tools to overcome a lifetime of awful parenting.
Obviously, I did not become a teacher. Why not? The biggest reason is that the market is so competitive here, I had three school districts tell me they wouldn’t even look at me with an alternative certification, and I do not have the time or money to go back and get another BA. Secondarily, working as a sub it became clear quickly that I did not have the energy to do a good job at school, and then go home and do a good job as Thor’s mother. I could either give those kids what they needed, or give my kid what he needed. Sorry, Future Generations, Thor won out. But who knows what I’ll do in ten years?
I get angry when I see that teachers are mocking their students. I get angry when I see that teachers are writing off their students. I get angry when I see teachers who feel like humiliation and abuse are good teaching tools. And, I am heartbroken for the students who have to sit in those classes.
I’ve had good teachers, and I’ve had bad. I know what it is like to be made fun of by a teacher, be told that I would never amount to anything, and I have been in a classroom where peers had body parts taped to desks. I can tell you that I don’t remember anything of value from those women and men. What I remember is the abuse.
But from the teachers who accepted me as I was–a hollow little ball of hot gas–I learned amazing things, and I developed self-confidence, and learned to reason, and became solid enough that eventually I realized my value and my ability were not lessened or determined by the miserable, bitter teachers who had tried to convince me I was nothing. Still, who knows where I would be today if I hadn’t been subject to Mrs. S, Mrs. P, Coach H or Dr. M?
Teaching is a selfless job. Or, it should be. It is thankless for sure. It is hard, hard work. I feel about it like I feel about religious vocations: If you can think of anything else you might rather be, go be that other thing.
If you are a teacher, thank you for taking on the hard job. As a former student, I would ask you to do me this one favor. Before you interact with your class (or share information about your students), imagine it is you. How would you feel hearing those words, seeing that facial expression, reading those comments? If you would feel anything less than appreciated as a human being, please think again.