Subbing in three different schools at once offers some unique insight into the teaching world. I think I notice it more now because the three schools I’m in now vary so widely in size and demographic. Between my observations of teachers in each setting and my conversations with my personal teacher friends, I’ve thought a lot about an individual teacher’s ability to do their job well. What factors separate a good teacher from an average one? What’s the balance between training, setting, and natural talent? After letting these thoughts percolate for a few weeks (yes, I’m behind on my blog posting, I know), I’ve reached two conclusions.
“It hurts!” She gasped and sobbed as she stumbled along behind me. “It hurts!”
“It’s OK, I know. We’re almost back. We’ll be OK, you’ll see. You can do it.” I kept up what I hoped was a soothing monologue, all the while ignoring each new scratch and cut tearing at my legs. I was hurting, too, but I knew her pain was worse, so I kept calm for her.
It’s the first time I remember having to be strong for someone else. I was in middle school at the time, spending a week of my summer at an overnight camp. I’d befriended two girls named Ashley and Hannah who had come to the camp together. The three of us became good friends over the week – though apparently, we didn’t try to keep in touch at all after camp was over.
One day, the counselors took us all out to an island in the middle of a lake. I’m sure memory is skewing the size of the island in my head, but it seemed quite large to my pre-teen eyes. The counselors had organized a game of capture-the-flag over the whole island, and soon we had all fanned out, roaming the land and trying to get past that invisible center line. Of course, my two friends and I stuck together as we explored. We weren’t the most aggressive capture-the-flag players, but we participated with the best of them. However, that day, we soon forgot all about teams and flags and trying to be sneaky.
“You can be anything you want to be! If you work hard, anything is possible!”
It’s an exciting, encouraging message for kids – a world where the possibilities are endless and dreams are attainable. But as those kids get older, shouldn’t we help them narrow the field down a bit from “anything”? Because no matter how badly I might want it, I will never be a rocket scientist, WNBA star, or organizational consultant at The Container Store. Not gonna happen. Ever. I’m not naturally good at math or science, I’m 5′ 2″ with no aim, and organization is one of those things that I’m constantly… ahem… working on. Clearly, these professions are not the right match for me, even if I really wanted one of them.
Obviously, those are some extreme examples, but bringing it a little closer to reality, I think I accidentally stumbled onto a fulfilling profession, instead of deliberately choosing it based on my interests. You see, I was a nerd. I read early and often. As a homeschooler, I would look at my reading assignments and truthfully proclaim that I’d already read all those stories. My parents have a picture of me in 7th or 8th grade reading Shakespeare at a Texas Rangers baseball game. Whenever I could, I built my high school class schedule around my English courses, and one Barnes & Noble salesman saw me in the store so often he started giving me his employee discount on my purchases. So naturally, when I thought about my future career, I assumed it would be literary in nature.
“Why do you like teenagers?”
I was in my final weeks of college. I and my fellow senior Secondary Ed. majors had been pulled out of our student teaching duties for a day of conferences about the practical side of teaching. After four and a half years of education classes, this gray-haired principal sitting across the table from us boiled it all down to one, simple question.
“Why do you like teenagers?”
“Because you have to like teenagers in order to teach teenagers,” he continued, “So tell me why.” He went around the table, asking each one of us for an answer. I already knew mine, but as I sat there listening to my classmates give their answers, I was struck by how different, and yet how accurate each response was. Continue reading