This November I am invited to a celebration meant to honour teachers who have been with my school board for 25 years. I got my invitation the other day. I was thrilled. I can hardly believe it has been 25 years. I think it is now time, however, to fess up a few things.
- The best part of teaching is learning. Who gets the opportunity to go back to school and actually get paid to learn? I honestly felt that everyday I was at school that I was paid to play and learn? I felt guilty accepting a paycheck (at first). The think I miss a lot about not teaching is that I am not learning nearly as much. Being a student is a luxury – being a teacher is a blessing.
- I have always aspired to be a better teacher. There have been some teachers I’ve worked with who absolutely astound me in terms of their ability to teach. How is it possible to be so quick on one’s feet? How can they plan such well coordinated lessons? How can they manage to meet the needs of all their students who come with such diverse needs? I always watched, took lessons, and experimented with things I saw.
- If I got bored of doing something, I changed it. Seriously, sometimes the lessons became so bland that I would look at the class and their glossed-over eyes – and simply said, “done”. If I couldn’t handle being bored, how could they?
- I love learning about thinking. Who knew? I was always fascinated with strategies that would help students to organize and structure their work better. Sometimes I used these strategies on myself and lo and behold, I found they worked. I will never read a book the same way again – now, it is always with a pen in my hand. I circle words on the page – I underline ideas – I write comments in the columns. Don’t loan me a book unless you want it to be annotated!
- I was scared to death on the first day of school EVERY time a new class began. My voice shook, my palms were sweaty, and I had to make several trips to the washroom in advance. Of course, the night before – always filled with nightmares of a classroom that went out of control. Even after 25 years, I dreaded the first day. I was so afraid that I would not be able to help students to reach their full potential. That – to me – was a crime.
- When students succeeded, I succeeded. When they passed a test – so did I. When they wrote a great essay – so did I. When students wanted to try again, I rejoiced and embraced the idea. One student became a lawyer – so did I. Another student became a doctor – so did I. Another became a PSW – so did I! I have had a multitude of jobs living vicariously through my students.
- I always believed in my students. Sometimes more than they believed in themselves. I had to. I had to be their cheer-leader. Some of them didn’t have one. Sometimes I was their Mom. I sometimes cooked for them, I sometimes helped their families paint, I sometimes gave them clothes. I would do anything for them. Because I knew all they needed was someone who was in their corner.
- I miss the challenges of the classroom. I loved solving problems. How could I reach so-and-so? How could I get him/her help for depression, a drug addiction, pregnancy? There were always so many challenges and it felt great to figure out the “key” to their success.
- I got upset should a student ever “not engage” in my class. I tried always so hard to connect to the students. I made my classes meaningful and relevant. I sometimes sang, danced, or told jokes – just to provide some “bling” to keep them attending. Sometimes, however, it just wasn’t enough. Sometimes, rent, drugs, depression were more compelling than me. That bothered me. I never gave up – I just took a rest for a while.
- I taught students things I thought they needed to know. I taught about the brain, about fitness and nutrition, about politics, money management, and life. I taught about grieving, about acceptance, and about forgiveness. I met curriculum expectations, but drove the curriculum bus on roads of literacy less traveled. I engaged in their lives – I was interested in their lives, their children, their families.
More than anything, though, I listened. I was there. I heard their stories. I embraced them as I would one of my own. And they talked. They trusted. They shared their lives with me. I became a richer person as a result.
I am not a social worker. I am not a nurse. I am neither a scholar, nor a village idiot. What I am, however, is a teacher. And I confess – I wouldn’t have it any other way!