- Posted September 10, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Teachers: Why do you teach?
Because I still believe there's a future
- Anika3, CNN iReport producer
I wasn’t even a certified teacher yet, but they were desperate and I was willing, so whalla I was now a high school English teacher for students who couldn’t thrive in a regular school setting. These were the stereotypical scary kids mixed in with ‘good’ kids who just didn’t fit for whatever reason in ‘normal’ schools.
I’m not going to lie. In large part, I took this job (which was insane because I was quitting a really nice-paying position) because the kids were so tough. My ego wanted to see if I had what it took to engage and motivate these kids to learn and become good citizens. I wanted to feel good about what I did for a living, and I wanted to help save our young and build a better future. Besides, if it didn’t work out I could always go back to the corporate world. At that point in time, I actually had quite a bit of savings and large amounts of available credit (something I’ve since gotten used to living without), so my good deed toward society was a risk I could afford to take.
Day one taught me these kids didn’t need me saving them, nor could they give a damn about how good I felt about my job. They just wanted me to actually do my job. The thing is I didn’t really know what my job was. Teach English is pretty vague (although we now have common core standards to help focus a bit more), and working with adolescents (regardless of where they stand socio-economically) always entails more than knowing the content.
There’s also the sheer unpredictability of this thing called life. One day I couldn’t park behind the school because it was now a crime scene. A young woman’s badly beaten corpse was found in our dumpster. A few days later, I kid you not, two of my students asked if I had any food because there was a young couple with a baby digging through that same dumpster.
“They’re hungry, Miss,” said one of the girls. “We can’t let them feed that baby garbage.”
The couple ran when I went outside with a box of Triscuits. The girls had to call out to them in Spanish to assure them that I wasn’t going to call Immigration. The students pulled money out of their pockets, took my box of crackers and brought it all over to the couple. Then the bell rang, and the girls and I went into school to work on my grammar or poetry worksheets. In hindsight, I should’ve had them coax the couple inside to call Social Services, but I was too stunned learning that a dumpster could be somebody’s coffin one day and another’s dinner table the next. A lesson my students understood all too well.
And it’s about then that I realized how much my students could NOT afford to take a risk on me. You see they needed a solid education way more than I needed to feel good about what I did. This was no longer an experiment, it was on, and as my now 22-year old daughter would say, “the shit just got real.”
Ten years later, and I’ve taught all kinds of kids as well as earned two more degrees (I have more degrees than money in the bank). I’ve learned about the many different ways to do my job (and continue to do so). I work in a ‘real’ high school now, and while I am certainly well more prepared to do my job than I was those first two years, I don’t know that it’s gotten any easier.
I still don’t even truly know what it means to be a good teacher. Well, I do, but I don’t because you see there’s all this stuff we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to teach the kids our content area, supposed to take into consideration their personal lives, supposed to keep up with all the paperwork, supposed to ensure they pass state testing, supposed to teach them to reflect and grow, supposed to take the time to individually assess each one’s progress while adjusting our lessons to meet that progress, supposed to keep them engaged, supposed to enforce school rules and policies, and supposed to adapt to the latest and greatest methodology put on our desks. We’re supposed to do all of that and more while not having time to pee in between classes. Our own reflection tends to take place during our commute, and by then we’re so exhausted we’re just thinking about how to get home without passing out.
It’s an insane world that seems to be spinning faster and faster. There is so much thrown at us that I really just don’t know how this process differs from that process anymore, or why it even matters. But, what I do know is why I’m still doing this. And, it’s no longer to feed my ego (which has been beaten down a bit, which may be a good thing) or to save anyone (I can’t).
It’s because our kids --- despite what you see on T.V. and despite the way they like to act --- are still our kids. They’re still hungry for knowledge. Most of them still have hope, and they do want to learn and grow and help change the world for the better (especially those cranky ones who act like they don’t care). The few who truly no longer care are still reachable.
They are who we once were, and oh my goodness they are incredibly smart and talented. What they lack is skills and a solid foundation to build upon. My job is to help them establish those skills. Every single day I (along with so many other teachers I know) try to connect what I’m teaching to what they want to build with their lives, along with what they need to know. I don’t always do a good job of it. Sometimes, I’ve failed miserably, but that’s okay because part of what I’m supposed to do is also model how we can learn from our mistakes.
I continue to teach because it’s my students who are saving me. I know this sounds so cliche, but it's true.
They give me hope that we can one day get beyond our polarization and our bickering over our should-be-dead-by-now prejudices. You see as teenagers they already do a much better job of that than many of our adult leaders.
I won’t make this world a better place, but I believe with all my heart that they will.