It is not often that I take a step back from being disappointed with my line of work and actually appreciate what it is I’m doing. I should do that more often. But I’m more of a chronic critic than anything, and pointing out the charms doesn’t come as naturally as pointing out the flaws.
I have to work on that. Really. Because it isn’t that I don’t see the good things, I’m just more vocal about the trying things.
I was just walking down the hall from dropping my students off in the cafeteria. I stopped in the teachers’ lounge to pick up my lunch from the refrigerator before heading back to the seclusion of my vacant classroom.
As I walked through the hall I passed by neat, silent lines of students. I passed by their teachers, who monitored them closely, both happy with their behavior and still wary, anticipating the next childish indiscretion. I passed by students coming out of bathrooms, eyes ahead as they returned to classrooms. I passed by doors swinging shut behind returning students, the sounds of instruction coming softly from each open doorway. I passed by empty classrooms, recovering briefly from the buzz of student activity. I passed by school administrators who always seem glad to not be required to stay in a classroom with 20 youngsters all day.
That’s when some gears started slowly grinding away in my head. I spend my day with 20-40 eight and nine year olds. I do this for over seven hours a day, five days per week. It stresses me out, sure, but on some level I choose it, and I’m good at it. Not everyone could say that. Not everyone can handle eight year olds.
At the school where I now teach, I am finally convinced of the rigor of the education. It isn’t quite as rigorous as was the private school that I attended at that age – but it can’t be – it’s a public charter school. I truly believe that the teachers assembled here are doing something just a little bit more than other places. I’m not putting down other teachers. I have a great respect and amazement for anyone who chooses this profession. But we’re still doing something more than usual here. Our requirements and benchmarks are higher. Our lessons are harder and our discipline is tighter. Our teachers come here every day not to force drones to memorize without context…
We come here to explain.
We explain everything from why we should be respectful of others and ourselves, to long division, to why it is important for an 8 year old to know about the ancient Greeks. We explain countless answers to questions we’re amazed these little ragamuffins can even come up with. We explain big words instead of using smaller ones. We explain nuances and figures of speech. We explain controversial topics, because kids deserve to have their good questions answered – if only for the reason that they must keep investigating. This is so important.
Do I want to be here every day? Hell no. But do I want to solve the problems of the world for an eight year old who desperately seeks understanding? Do I want to rise to the occasion so that these kids can have an opportunity for learning that many others do not get? Do I think that on some level, it’s all more than worth it? Absolutely yes.
So that’s my perspective for today. Will I feel the same tomorrow? Who knows – ask me then. But for now I’m grateful that I’m doing this, and I’m quite content with where I am.