A long time ago, I was a teacher. I initially didn’t want to be, though. I was terrified. I hated standing up in front of people unless I had a memorized script (like a poem).
I stood behind the lectern on the first day so the students wouldn’t see my knees shaking. I prayed my voice would hold firm where my appendages wouldn’t. Somehow, I got through that day. I learned names, I handed out sheets, I cracked a stale joke or two and I survived.
Over the course of that first semester, I learned to love teaching. It is the art of interacting with people in just the right way that successfully transmits what they need to know. Every classroom has a personality. Every student has a story.
I firmly believe that teaching is a calling. You cannot dial in the desire to teach; it must be rooted deeply within you so that harsh conditions like mandatory testing, problem parents, and bored students cannot choke its bloom to death. I stopped teaching because I recognized that my love for it was an acquired taste, rather than a vocation. Stress would have burned that fleeting taste right out of my mouth.
The hardest part about teaching college freshmen was combating the “I’m only here because I have to be” attitude inherent in students who take mandatory pre-requisites. Every teacher wants an engaged pupil. Without class engagement, students’ eyes gloss over during lectures on why the five-paragraph essay is best left in high school. It can be disheartening.
Last week, I wrapped up a course I took for memoir writing by Dr. Christal Presley. It felt beyond good to sit in a desk again after six years. Not only was Dr. Presley a supportive teacher, but the class atmosphere was magic. There is a vast difference between continuing education courses and traditional college classes. No one fell asleep in this class. No one piddled with their phone. No one slinked in unprepared, having not read the book or having defiantly plagiarized the assignment. No one glared at the teacher like, “Entertain me, mother@#%er, I’m bored.”
We came after work, the scent of coffee and corporate bull$@#! lingering on our clothes. We paid for our class out of our lint-filled pockets–no loans, no parents–we are the parents. We listened eagerly because we wanted to be there. One of my classmates suggested I could be a great writing teacher. But I am too selective; this is the type of environment in which I (and I think every teacher) would prefer to teach.
I wish, somehow, that we could teach our students, our children to take complete joy in education before it is at a palpable cost to them and something they cannot regularly partake in. Maybe then, the rigors of teaching would not tax so many spirits.
And for all the teachers crossing the thresholds of classrooms again, bon courage–and teach from your soul…they can never burn that out.
Shout out to P. Braithwaite for inspiring this post!