Sunday, February 11, 2007

Soul Searching

With the exception of the post immediately prior to this one, my tone has expressed the near depressive state I have languished in since mid January. Too often in the course of these last few weeks, I have felt the desire to give up. There are plenty of teachers who treat this profession like a job that must be endured to pay the bills instead of the dreamy stand and deliver inspiration of a career it is often made out to be. I don't want that to happen to me, but the apathy of my students is infectious.
It is easy to blame the students for my indifference simply because there is no other plausible cause. My daughter, who is on the verge of walking, brightens my mood and occupies the free time after work. My wife, who is an amazingly supportive woman, brings stability to an otherwise unfocused individual. My career, though young, has an auspicious future. So why do I feel like giving in?
Reason #1
Student Apathy--Okay, apathetic students have dogged the education world since the paint finished drying on the first one room school house in New England. There exists within me the belief that my love of literature and writing can supercede the general ennui associated with public education. Sure, that is egotistical, but it is at the core of why I teach. So, when a student fails to donate more than a half-ass effort because he's a senior, it pisses me off. There I am, 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, scouring essays for actual thoughts while my 9 1/2 month old daughter practices her first steps. I give too much of my time beyond the required 6.5 hours per day to have some lazy kid tell me that he doesn't see the point of learning sentence structure.
Reason #2
Student Drama--It seems that at least two students a year pull on my heartstrings. We've all had at least one of these students whose life circumstances make it hard not to give the extra effort for them. We become a counselor, a mentor, maybe a friend to that student; only, the advice thate we give, the support that we offer ultimately falls to ground unheeded. I've invested too many emotions into too many students who have basically thrown it back in my face. What bothers me the most about this is that I keep giving. I keep believing in the good of humanity to the point of weariness. I've grown weary of caring for the troubled or confused student. I have a daughter, now; it seems I ought to be saving up all my caring for when she will need it.

Really, those are the two reasons I have felt drained of life energy lately. This is the first time in the four years that I have been teaching that I have felt this low. Even the events of two years ago, when a group of students tried to use the media to bury my career, did not cause me to question my commitment to educating students. I still believed in the nobility of the profession. Today, at 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday night? I'm not as confident.
In an attempt to regain my sense of perspective, I tried to locate the speech I gave in front of a panel that would ultimately decide to allow me into the education program at Northwest University (then Northwest College). I came up empty.
I remember the premise quite well. Instead of telling the panel why I wanted to be a teacher, I told them why I didn't want to be a teacher. The risky approach tapped out the primary beat to which I have marched to ever since. I have tried to embrace this career not as a job, but as a vocation--a calling. I did manage to find in an old journal this reminder:
"My thoughts for life include grandiose plans. And English teacher who teaches with passion and knowledge. Understanding students, being sensitive to them."

Why do I teach? First, let me begin by exploring why I teach English. Primarily, it is because I believe the power of stories. From generation to generation, since we were either created by God or finished evolving from monkeys, man has told stories. We are an imaginative creature capable of expressing the depth of our nature through the words that we have learned. From Shakespeare's exploration of human nature to Paton's lamentaion of that same human nature, words have brought us to a better understanding of who we are; and those same words have sparked monumental revolutions in our world.
Why do I teach? Second, let me explore why I teach high school. The adolescent must navigate a complicated maze to adulthood. We implore the adolescent to slow down their sprint to maturity while bombarding them with adult responsibility. We ask of them more than we are often willing to give ourselves. The adolscent is in search for who he or she is and will be. I want to offer my experience and the experiences of so many great authors as guiding lights.

Ultimately, I believe that my story and the stories of countless men and women who have put pen to paper have the power to lead and influence a new generation of leaders that this world is desperately in need of. That is why I teach.


At 6:02 PM , Blogger Ms. George said...

What a wonderful post. You articulated beautifully the ways in which the good teachers, and I can see by your posts that you are one of them, struggle with the responses of our students (or lack thereof). We come in to class with all these hopes and dreams, wanting the students to enjoy or engage with literature the ways that we do. Sometimes, it works beautifully, others, not so much.
I think it is that when we stop caring so much, we'll know it is time to retire. Or move into administration ;).


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