Lately I’ve found there are events and words that I can’t seem to shake. And they must be shaken so I can write fiction and non-fiction that will amplify my voice in a positive way. This post is about being told I should “quit teaching.”
One thing I’ve learned since I fell down this pothole of uncertainty, is that I have a fundamental need to be heard. Having a voice is clearly part of my drive to be a writer, and finding the way to say things, or share things, is important to my calling as a teacher.
I can get psychoanalytic about it and say that obviously some time in the past I was not heard when I needed to be. I think about that a lot and wonder if I had been, would I have become something else? Still, I believe that we all want to be heard in our own way, whether as lawyers, artists, musicians, parents, friends…
My goal for the next few months is to really listen to myself and appreciate the gifts I have; to not let outside negation of those strengths keep me from sharing and improving them.
When asked what possible good came out of the past few years, I have to dig deep to find something positive. If there’s one thing, I’ve realized how much teaching means to me. It’s a vocation. No matter how many years I treated it as a means to an end, it was never just a job, but part of who I am.
I joke to my students that there is not a teacher in the world who would choose to teach junior high if it were only for the paycheck and summers off. So it’s obvious we must do it for the love of the students. They laugh, but for me, it’s true.
From the start, teaching and mentoring has always been about what I can do to move a student forward along his or her continuum of learning, no matter their abilities or skills. I take each student as they come to me. I work hard to help them improve what they know, to help them acquire new skills, or interests, or give them tools to address weaknesses. I’m not always successful, but sometimes, it’s about valuing and hearing another human, no matter their age or ability.
As a teacher, I’ve also learned. I have taught hundreds of students from kindergarten to adults. I have interacted and collaborated with thousands of parents, grandparents, and siblings. I have differentiated my instruction based on the learner’s needs, not mine. I have had fifteen years at this school board alone where I have learned so much about human nature and learning styles, and learning challenges. I have seen kids with social issues, reading issues, family issues. I have planned and researched and learned all I can to help all my students be successful.
And I am good at it.
I have built relationships with students and parents and colleagues that are still strong years later. I have had a lot of success with various mentorships, whether tutoring, writing, or as a personal support. Collaboration is a strength of mine. And frankly, it’s fun. No two days are the same. I’m not stuck behind a desk.
So mentoring someone through a difficult interview process seemed like something I could do.
A collaboration takes two committed partners. To ask for help is to be open to suggestions, to have faith in what the more experienced person has learned. In this particular mentorship, I mapped out a plan that I know would have been successful if I’d been listened to. I was not. I was not valued or heard.
I know what I’m doing. I say it now, so I hear it.
When someone says “You should quit teaching” – especially when they know how hard the teaching year has been – it scrapes the soul in a way that an apology, even if I’d received one, can’t heal. Why would someone say that? I don’t know. Why feels like the wrong question, but I’m still working on that. Sometimes it’s easier to blame someone else when failure comes knocking. I don’t know the answer, and in the end, it doesn’t matter anymore.
I have since mentored others, with a lot of success. The basis for teaching and mentoring is good two-way communication. As the learner, it’s knowing that you are believed in and heard, and that your teacher is doing everything she can, just for you. It’s being open to discovery. As the teacher, it’s allowing the student to process lessons and advice; it’s showing, not telling. It’s leading the student to their own truths, their own discoveries. It’s investing time, care, and energy in someone, in their dreams.
I don’t need the affirmation of a thank you, or some kind of prize. I can see the changes in my students. I see how comfortable they are in my classes – they talk to me, they tell me things. We laugh, a lot. They fail, and they succeed. They celebrate their uniqueness. I tell them every day how amazing they are, and how much they teach me. I challenge them, and those I mentor, to think beyond the limits of what they know. Or what they think they know.
They don’t always take what I have to offer, but they always engage me in a discussion or debate so I understand better who they are, what they need. It’s a give and take. To learn is to be open to hearing hard things, turning them over to find the pieces that make sense, and to find the beauty in overcoming the challenges in the pieces that don’t.
My students know I hear them, and they know they’re valued.
Now I need to work on hearing me. Learning how is a challenge.
But as with any lesson, it’s an opportunity – always opportunity.
For the first time in a very long time, I posted a story in my workshop group. It was a banner day – the writing is coming easier. I am once again going to bed at night thinking about characters and waking up ready to explore new ways to torment them. 🙂 These posts help focus me.
Run route: Tuscany Ravine
Song: The Load Out – Jackson Browne
Book: How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton – gifted to me by my friend Marc, who is pretty smart about these things.