Here we are. The spring of 2022. Another semester. Teaching is always a challenge. Even when pandemics aren’t raging. When Twitter isn’t seething. The spring of 2022 is sure to be a doozy. But they are all doozies.
Is doozies the plural of doozy? Gosh, if only I knew somebody with a PhD in Literacy Education to help me out!
Just kidding. I’m a PhD in Literacy Education. And I still don’t know.
Literacy isn’t only about grammar and identifying letter sounds. In fact, it is hardly about that. See the last 100 years of research in literacy. And the last 5,000 years of human experience. Probably more. 10,000 years. 10,000,000 years. Don’t be convinced by people who assure you that literacy is only about grammar and identifying letter sounds. These folks are usually about the work of imposing their values on others. Beware.
Forgive me. An aside. A rant. That’s what I do here.
I think this is my 19th year as paid educator. Sweet Jesus that’s a long time! And here comes another spring.
My friends, I tell you this with a straight face: Teaching is always a challenge.
I’m thinking about my cooperating teacher as I write this blog. Twenty years ago I was a student teacher at North St. Paul High School. I taught 11-12th grade creative writing in the spring of 2002. This was a pretty sweet gig. I liked creative writing. And I liked 11th and 12th graders. But man did I have a lot to learn.
Here’s something my cooperating teacher said to me. We were pretty far along in the process. So it was okay for her to challenge me in this way. But it still stung. Criticism usually does. Anyway, she said this:
“Sam, you have to remember that this isn’t all about you.”
22 year-olds have a tough time remembering that it isn’t all about themselves. So do 8 year-olds. So do 41 year-olds. People are so damned egocentric. I certainly can be.
My cooperating teacher challenged me to remember that it isn’t about me. It’s about them. The students. I’m in that classroom to make them better. Better at creative writing. At reading. At thinking. At being a human. Whatever.
The work of a teacher is to serve their student. I’m there so that students can build something. And in so building be changed. Hopefully for the better. That’s all.
Man that is a challenging lesson to learn. Here I am twenty years later reminding myself, on the cusp of another semester, that this is not about me. It never has been and never will be.
It is good that teaching challenges me to remember this.
Seven years as a professor. Twelve as a high school teacher. Been teaching improv for about as long. Mentoring folks. Being mentored by folks. A life in education. I’ve never done anything else.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I sold long-term care insurance, was a swing manager at McDonalds, and was the best damned barista that Dunn Brother’s on Grand Avenue has ever seen. But those jobs were just that. Jobs. Being a teacher isn’t a job. Neither is being a professor. It’s a profession that, at least in my case, becomes mixed up with my identity. With the ways I move through the world. Spills into every other aspect of my life. For better or worse. Often for worse. Often for better, too.
I’m an educator, baby. And I’m changed by each and every encounter I have with teaching and learning. The spring of 2022 will be another round. Challenging, yes. And important. This work always feels important.
Coming together with others to be better. That’s something worth doing.