I visited my father at the hospital this morning right after teaching my Tuesday morning class. In small talk, he asked me if I enjoyed teaching. When he is not at the hospital, which is always, he lives with me, so we have had this conversation before, I am certain. But this is how it is with him. He idles in conversation, never moving forward nor backward.
I said, “Yes, I love teaching.” To which he replied,
“Maybe that’s what you were born to do.”
I had to think about that for a moment. It’s probably true. I don’t believe he was accusing me of being too pedantic. The context did not warrant it. I’m sure I have been accused of that one before. Sure of it.
But he may be right. I have been a teacher or tutor or coach just about all my life from having younger siblings to helping out the kindergarten kids when I was a sixth grader to tutoring sociology in college for pay to side jobs through college as a Berlitz School of Languages instructor to a high school English department reader to a high school English teacher fresh out of college as my job while I finished law school.
I thought I should be a lawyer (my mother always said I should be), but as it turns out, I was always a teacher and returned to it after practicing law for 12 years and have done so ever since.
I have had the great good fortune to teach so many classes, so many, many of them from composition and writing, to American and British Literature, to paralegal and law courses, to creative writing and life story writing, to art and cooking. I coached soccer for nearly 20 years.
So yeah, maybe it’s true. Maybe I was born to teach. I certainly do enough of it. After all these years, I have a knack for it, maybe even a certain talent, though I am equally certain that I am not the best. There are far more organized and structured college instructors than I am. And my ratings on ratemyprofessors.com are an average of mixed reviews. I have been accused of being a tough grader. That is true. One reviewer wrote: “If you’re stupid and you know it, don’t take her class.” I’m not sure what to make of that.
But it’s National Teacher Appreciation week. My students aren’t aware of that, and I am not bound to tell them. But I don’t need to. I am still friends in real life and on Facebook with students I taught in their senior year of high school 32 years ago, professors, business owners and lawyers themselves now. Folks I taught writing tips to ten years back in a class entitled “Writing the Story of Your Life”at a few senior citizen centers down the road 45 minutes are still friends. And dozens of students I see from time to time around town who I’ve taught at the local community college in the last fifteen years have popped up in that amount of time. Kids I coached when they were little are now showing up in my college class room.
I know they appreciate what they learned. Somehow I do. But I don’t think teachers are appreciated enough and in fact, are often ridiculed and belittled as the children they are charged with educating. They certainly are not respected given the status and pay afforded to them in this country. Perhaps that is one reason I felt–against my better instincts–that I should become a lawyer rather than “merely” a teacher when I graduated college. And I have vivid memories of teacher friends having to defend themselves from the old “you have summers off and I wish I had your job” patronizing.
Yet how many of us can remember at least one teacher that influenced them, taught them something and gave them stories to pass on to their own children? We take their continued existence for granted. We take them for granted–except for the one obligatory nod mandated by celebrated days of a week each year in May, primarily in grade school, when kids bring in flowers, apples, mugs, cards or chocolate to their teachers, who smile and fuss in return. I remember my years as room mom in my kids’ classrooms, having to coordinate that event each year as well as the holiday gift in winter and the parting gift in summer.
And I often get Starbucks gift cards or gilded thank you notes at the end of the winter, spring and summer sessions. These are lovely tokens of appreciation. But I also get shorted a class and thus lose my family’s health insurance every five years when the district, state or country suffers budget crises. I’ve been through three of those cycles in fifteen years, sometimes at perilous times in my family’s health history. I am also never guaranteed a class as I do not work under contract, just the good will built over time of performing my job.
This semester was the first in fifteen years that I was paid for office hours, though I hold them throughout the day and night outside my classroom when it ends, at tables on campus, on my way to my other job via telephone and at night when I return via laptop. And I am happy to do so. I love my job. I just wish teaching were as respected and well paid as other jobs with comparable education and training. And the more I teach, the better I am at it, though there is always something to learn as a teacher.
Teaching is in my bones. No doubt. I’m fortunate to do what I love. Remember your teachers this week, most all of them givers–in the spirit of the profession. Hugs to all my teachers, good and bad, for helping build my life and teaching me to pay it forward.