On Teaching

As I sat in my empty classroom, final papers graded, exams read, grades posted, I reflected on my year of teaching. It was over. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sad. I think this was how it was supposed to be done. After all, a week before the fall semester began, I sat through a week’s worth of meetings listening to horror stories about how my students would be mentally incapable of composing a complete thought, that at the end of the semester I’d best watch my back before a disgruntled student, angry with his B-, attacks me in a dark alley.

But it wasn’t like that at all. Every day I showed up to class, greeted by young vibrant faces (that slowly began to burn out as the semester wore on) ready to get through another day of class. My students were smart. I told them to do something, and they did it. I could never convince my brother to pee standing up, but these kids listened.

 

I didn’t even have to over-explain things to them like they were elementary school kids. If they didn’t understand directions, which was rare, they asked for clarification. They always turned in assignments on time. They always came prepared and did the work. In their cover letters, they remarked on how fun the projects were (as fun as writing projects can be). If they were lying, my confidence was boosted anyway.

 

Two years ago, I likely would have failed 90% of them because I’m a dick like that. And I still don’t completely agree with primarily looking at the big picture, but I understand why it’s important now. You have to understand what the picture is before you can begin to look closely at the individual brush strokes. My students knew what the picture was.

 

It’s why I want to teach for years to come. Even though I feel like I didn’t do enough, my students, in their final exams, reflected on how much I had really helped them – how they didn’t hate this class like they thought they would or how much more confident they were in their writing. Again, if they were lying, my confidence was still boosted.

 

As they walked out, I wondered if they would remember me when they graduated. I still remember some of my professors that made classes fun. I remember their names – Elizabeth Howland, Coleman Markham, Jody Baumgartner, Angela Mellor. They made learning fun and memorable. Even if none of my students remember me, I’d be okay with it. Just to make a small impact on their lives for three and a half months is fine with me – to take something they generally don’t have nice thoughts about and make it bearable.

 

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do – help people. 10 years ago, if you had told me I was going to be a teacher I would have laughed in your face. I thought I would be a geologist, or maybe an astronomer, or maybe a broadcaster, or maybe a baseball player. Not a teacher.

 

At my Christian school, they told us we could be missionaries and that God could call us to the darkest jungles of Africa like He did to David Livingstone. It was a metaphor for doing the one thing we would absolutely never do. Teaching was my Africa. After all, I hated talking in front of people. I was fine as long as I wasn’t seen. It’s why I wrote. It’s why I did production. I wasn’t about to give public speeches on a regular basis.

 

It’s funny how things change. In a matter of a year, I’ve gotten somewhat comfortable with public speaking and performing. I’ve done a handful of public readings. I’ve slayed the crowds with my humorous content. And now teaching doesn’t seem like Africa at all. It seems like a walk down the street…on the good side of town.

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