Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Am a Teacher

Woke up this mid-summer morning to overcast skies and a smattering of fat, juicy raindrops. It has been an odd summer, and most mornings I wake up with a mixture of sleepy and a bit dazed, not my normal summer awakening. I have a long list of things to do every day, but I still have felt very out of it.

This has been the topic of much study for me for the past couple weeks. Why have I been in a fog, wandering, except for some isolated hours when completely focused on a  task (e.g., curriculum writing or gardening)? My to-do list is full, daily, but I have been uncertain what to do with myself every day, wondering how I am going to fill the long hours that stretch out in front of me. This morning, waking up, I figured it out.

I am a teacher.

It is summer.

Hence the fog.

It was like a light bulb. I shared Waiting for Superman (see it on YouTube in pieces here) with my family last night, and I realized as I was watching how much I missed teaching this summer. Not necessarily in any format (I am not feeling the need to go back to public school), but I miss having students here, and I miss working with them and reading their work and having conversations and talking about the future. My heart broke again watching Anthony, thinking of the chance he has of survival, statistically, if he didn't get an education, and I definitely cried a bit when he got the phone call. I was a little teary-eyed the whole movie, thinking of how desperately so many children need education, and how massively we are failing them. The movie asks how much responsibility is ours for educating other people's children?

If you are me, the answer is simple: all of it. All of the responsibility sits on everybody who breathes in America's shoulders. Full stop. How can we not invest everything we are, as a nation, into our human capital? How can we turn these children into hopeless criminals, generally by the time they hit middle school, having already failed a grade (or two) and reading/computing several levels behind where they should be?

Thinking about these questions made me finally realize how I define myself and illuminated the reason I have been so foggy this summer. I am a teacher. I am other things, certainly, but there is nothing more important to me than that. But, you gasp, you have a child! Isn't that important? Of course. I see my primary role as her teacher, and the kind of teacher I am includes nuturing and building relationships, so that fits in with how I define myself and my role as a parent. What more important job could I have than to teach my child how to navigate the world, think for herself and take care of herself? Is there anything more pressing that teaching compassion and understanding, plus how to cook for yourself when you're broke, or how to grow your own food, or...or...or. I think it never really came to light when teaching in public school, as I crashed, beaten, into every summer, and, except for the obligatory summer training, avoided school and students, almost as if recovering from post-traumatic stress, avoiding loud noises and fast movements.  I was forming relationships as best I could, but at the end of the year, the kids moved along the assembly line into the summer, and I was so worn out from everything having to do with school, all the little things that overtook any teaching that might have happened, that I never really fully connected with who I am.

I am a teacher. It matters to me what happens to my kids. I had a dream last night that I was back in a traditional classroom, teaching (and the kids were, or course, all paying attention in their adolescent way, which is to say that they had turned their desks in other directions but were still mostly oriented towards me), and a former student was in the back of the classroom, having climbed in through the window to say hi to some friends, but also to see me. This particular student lost his mom two years before he came to me, had a very absent dad, no siblings living with him in the house, and lived with a pair of well-intentioned but somewhat clueless grandparents. I felt such relief in seeing him, even as I kicked him back out the window and chastised him for coming into school that when I woke up I was happy to "see" that he was still okay.

I am a teacher. I can't wait until school starts. I still have curriculum to design and a library to organize and supplies to order and a house to clean all the way down to the bones before the kids come back, but I am ready for them now, even though maybe they still want to sleep in and avoid thesis statements and hypotheses. Technically I need these next three weeks so that I can really be ready and have everything in place, but the best teaching starts with the framework that the students fill in. I am ready for school to start, even though I need a hair cut, eye appointment and physical, and the same for my kid. We can fit those things in like we always do during the year.

I am a teacher, and it is a revelation.

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