It’s been six years since I left my career in education and I have a confession to make — even though I loved my students and did the best I could by them, I pretty much sucked at being a teacher and I wasn’t much better as a school librarian. It wasn’t for lack of trying or preparation; I joined NCTE and read English Journal faithfully the entire time I was an English teacher. When I was a librarian, I payed for School Library Journal out of my own pocket instead of using the school’s funds. I tried to help my kids and my fellow teachers, but I just didn’t have the gravity and ability so many of my colleagues did. My students never gave me any trouble and I always had one of the lowest discipline incident records each year, but I’ve never managed to shake the nagging feeling in the back of my mind — even after all this time — that I was subjecting students to a type of slow torture by force-feeding them Beowulf and Macbeth or short stories and poetry.
I wanted to get them writing, so I tried some writing workshop tactics without anywhere near the success Nancy Atwell promised me I would have in In the Middle. I just wanted them to find their own voices. Teaching research papers wasn’t much better. After I worked and worked with them on finding information and warned them about plagiarism, I still got at least one paper each time containing “see illustration on pg 103” somewhere in the middle of uncited sentences containing words I knew my young ones couldn’t define with a dictionary and a scientist to help them out.
The kids didn’t drive me out of the classroom and the library though. That was my own lack of political ability and tact. I never was a “good little solider” able to do what someone told me without comment. So, I butted heads with authority time after time after time and inevitably, I ended up allowing my battleship mouth to run over my rowboat butt. So I finally hung it up after being shown the door six years ago in my last position.
I’ve lived daily with the feeling of failure. I had every intention of staying in one room at one school and retiring after teaching grandchildren of former students or when they condemned the building around me, whichever came first and it just didn’t happen. Still, even a blind hog finds a nice juicy acorn every now and then and when I was feeling particularly low yesterday, a former student of mine replied to a post I’d made on Facebook about the ten most influential books in my life. Once I read it for the tenth or twelfth time I got to thinking maybe I wasn’t quite as horrible as I thought I was.
Here is what one of my boys — who I remember as a chunky little freshman with a complete inability to sit still very long at all — wrote on my Facebook wall. As you read it, keep in mind I had no idea he was fighting some of the battles he was waging and though I remember him well, I can’t recall giving him the book no matter how hard I try but he sure does.
Coach, I figured out why back in school I hated to read and you were the only teacher to actually take the time and say I have a book you might like to read and it was J D Salingers Catcher in the rye. Think thats how you spell it. After all these years and quite a few books and audio books cause i still struggle with reading. That book always sticks out in my mind. Oh the reason was im Add and Dyslexic. My favorite author now is Dean Koontz. I have alot of his books and alot of his audio books. I think if it wasnt for you showing me that book and how interesting books can be that I wouldnt read or listen to books now. You opened my eyes and encouraged me to read and open myself up and let my imagination make the words come alive and paint a picture of what I was reading. I have a 13 yr old son who is ADD and Dyslexic and he is the same way I was. He’s in the 8th grade now and i think next yr im going going to get that book and let him read it because it was the 9th grade when you gave me that book to read. I saw this post and figured i would comment. Thanks coach hope all is going well with you and your family…
You really don’t know . . . you really just never know. Maybe I’ve been a little hard on myself. Maybe never having a “Teacher of the Year” plaque on my wall isn’t as important as I thought. I still think I pretty much sucked as a teacher, but looks like I managed to get one starfish back in the water. Funny how the biggest boosts sometimes come along at the lowest ebbs.
Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!