In addition to the weird and the hard, there were good things about being a first year teacher. Some of them were small—bagels in the teacher’s lounge, watching the sun come up over Ladybird Lake as I neared the end of my morning commute. Other positives, though, mattered more:
Having a Purpose
It may not make doing the job any easier, but it’s a great thing to get up in the morning and know that you are going to do something worthwhile. You’re not making money for some anonymous corporation. (Except on testing days. They’re the worst—those are the days I really felt like I was just doing a job.) Teaching matters. Teaching college students matters, too, but I never felt it quite so urgently.
Of course, that’s also why you can never leave your work at work, and why you worry constantly about things you can’t change. Overall, though? Devoting your working days (and occasional nights and weekends) to something that matters is pretty awesome.
My dad liked people. In general. He enjoyed being around them, enjoyed talking to them and making them happy. I have never been like that; despite overcoming a good deal of my introverted awkwardness over the years, I’m still happier by myself than with most people. That doesn’t keep me from liking my students.
The best things and the worst things about middle schoolers are suspiciously similar: they have boundless energy that hasn’t quite coalesced around a definite sense of self. They’re fountains of ideas, but often challenged to figure out which ones are good. (Both of those are frequently double for the “challenging” students.) Over the course of a year, I got to see students figuring things out on their own, deciding who they are and who they want to be.
Whenever it isn’t the worst part of the job, working with the students is the best part of the job.
Another cool part of being a teacher? Working with other teachers. I had fantastic colleagues at my school. When I was a kid, it wasn’t until high school that I really started getting along as well with other students as I did with (most) teachers. I got a lot of help from my fellow teachers this year—everything from feedback on lesson plans to loaned books to pep talks. I only wish I’d lived on the right side of town so I could have attended more of the social functions.
Teaching writing is my favorite. I think about writing so much of the time. I’ve taught it before, of course—many of the music courses I taught as a gradjunct were “writing intensive” and required significant doses of writing instruction alongside the musical content. That was all writing research papers, though. This year, I got to teach fiction and poetry and, yes, research. The cool part is that I had to think about writing in different ways, try out different explanations and different examples to get to students who do not all read, who do not even necessarily have much shared background in movies and television.
In terms of teaching—not of being a teacher, but of actual teaching—I think I learned the most about how to do it well by teaching what I love.
Paying it Forward
I spent many, many, many years in school. Along the way, I had some great teachers. I do not think anybody gets into teaching without having role models. In some small way, becoming a teacher myself pays them back for all the things I learned from them. So, in rough order of grade level they had me: Mrs. Christensen, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Strough, Mrs. Hotchkiss and Mr. Carter…and Drs. Hess, Macy, and Mazullo. Thank you for putting up with me, for teaching me, and for inspiring me.