|Photo by Nicole M., my cousin.|
Teaching is not a profession for the faint of heart.
I can attest to that statement from two sides: as a teacher, and as someone who has had teachers who have changed my life.
The teacher-student relationship is complicated at times; there is an inherent distance between the two figures, because well, there has to be: one is a teacher, and an adult, and the other is a student, and a child. Our job as teachers is simply to teach, isn't it? Not quite. Once, a few years ago, I was teaching a class and a young lady in the class very nastily was making fun of a young man, in front of everyone. I obviously stopped the class and called her out on her behavior. The next day, her mother stopped me in the hall and started screaming at me, in front of everyone. She said that I had embarrassed her daughter, and how dare I meddle in the students' personal lives (hardly); she screamed at me to "just stick to Latin!" Oh, lady, I wish it were that simple. Don't you think my life would be easier if I didn't go home and worry about my students? Think about my students? Care about my students? Don't you think my life would be easier if I didn't worry that they were drinking, doing drugs, scared, in danger, being bullied? Don't you think my life would be easier if I didn't have to watch a group of boys make fun of a boy just because he wasn't up in the new video game lingo? Don't you think my life would be easier if I didn't have to watch a group of girls giggle about another girl's outfit as she walked away? Don't you think? I wish teaching were that simple. Here are your declensions, here are your conjugations. Thanks for coming to class. As if. Teaching, at times, can be gut-wrenching and heart-breaking...but most importantly, joyful, amazing, and breathtaking.
I have seen miracles happen right before my eyes. I have seen students, who couldn't handle learning French or Spanish, translate a whole passage in Latin. I have seen students teach their peers all about the Imperfect tense in the 3rd conjugation (dude, it's hard). I have had students start off scared, quiet, and hesitant, go on to major in Classics in college. And, I can't even begin to count the times I have heard that magic, "ahhh! I get it now!" That, that right there is why I teach.
But, I didn't learn how to relate to my students from thin air. I've had some truly astounding teachers in my day.
In 6th grade, when my parents were in the midst of a not-so-fun divorce, my 6th grade social studies teacher, Marcia, would let me call my mother anytime I wanted, from her office. I was homesick, and scared; she was a single mom of two girls and understood. Marcia was real, she was a strong woman. The twelve year old me didn't know that years later, when Marcia retired, and then sadly passed away, I would take her position teaching 6th grade Ancient History. Marcia not only was there for me, in a non-academic way, as a sad twelve year old, but she changed the course of my life. I'm now a Latin and history teacher because of her.
In 8th grade, after struggling with Latin for two years (I mean, failing...), the school hired a young man named Steve to teach Latin. He was funny, kind, and took a different approach to Latin: fun. Suddenly I got it! My grades improved and low and behold, I began to love learning Latin (it's the only foreign language I've ever taken). I had him as a Latin teacher for two years, and he taught us more Latin in those two years than I realized...now, looking back, I see how much he inspired me to challenge my students to read real classical texts, and Latin poetry (he introduced me to Catullus, and oh man, I love me some Catullus!).
In 9th grade, I took a global studies class with Matt. He made it clear to us that it didn't matter where one went to college, or what your background was--everyone is equal. He taught us never to say "retarded," a teaching mantra I have taught and been strict with in my own classrooms.
High school was not the easiest time for me. I came in to my private high school in 10th grade, and was automatically sort of a loner, because I was quiet and kept to myself. But, there were two people who wouldn't stand for that. Liza and Jorge. Liza, my psychology teacher, and Jorge, my public speaking and physics teacher, were a young married couple, who took it upon themselves to make me feel awesome about myself. Jorge used to let me quilt during class, since it was sort of my thing, and made me feel not so alone. Liza hooked me up with Latin tutoring, which again, changed the course of my life. They were a constant ear to listen to my problems, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. I still talk to them, almost daily via the internet, and have become close to their three kids now too.
Teachers, you make a difference. You may not realize it now, but your smile, your kind words, your wisdom...the students are listening. I always tell my students, "It's not about the Latin at all--it's about being good people. Respectful. Strong. Willing to stick up for others. For yourself." Years ago I had a student who was brilliant, but she kept getting herself into trouble. She would come to me, crying, and ask what she should do. Beyond telling her to stop doing whatever she was doing, I kept reminding her that "there's more to school than school." She loved that. I think, often as teachers, we forget that the academics are the key, obviously, but it is imperative to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to our students. We must listen, because, they do tell. We spend more time with our students than their parents spend with them, often. It is our responsibility to help them navigate the world and understand morality, justice, and kindness.
I have had the most compassionate, loving, groups of students. Know how I know this? I give them chances to stretch their minds and hearts. When Dave, of Brown Bird, was sick, we wrote letters to him. My students did not forget his name or face. Every morning they would come in and ask how he was doing. When he passed away, my students shed a tear, and asked me to make sure MorganEve knew she had a standing invite to come play a concert at their school. Throughout the years, we have written letters to the kids at St. Judes, drawn pictures for children that were housebound due to illness, and reached out to those in need.
Is that sticking to Latin? Not so much. Will my students remember their verb conjugations and noun charts? Maybe, probably not. Do I care if they remember their noun chart in ten years? Not really at all. I do care that they continue helping those in need. I do care that they keep an open heart to the world. I do care that they love to love, and love to help, and love to care. Being a teacher is about preparing students for the world, and I know that my students will go out into this world and help a friend in need, or a stranger, because there is more to school than school, there is learning to be a human being who does good, and not only is good at what they can do.
Teaching is not for the faint of heart, but those who teach know, it opens your heart. It stretches your soul. It boggles your brain, and it shows you that though humanity can be scary, there are people out there in the world who know right from wrong, and they know it...because they learned it in your classroom.