Today was only a mildly productive day. I did get all my lesson plans written up and turned in; the inevitable paperwork that seems to come with every job is double for teachers. I sweat my lesson plans and my materials. I don’t have a curriculum to follow, nor a book or even a guide line. My co-teacher says “It’s your class, you can do whatever you want”– I appreciate the trust, but it does cause a lot of stress. I think about every lesson, every worksheet, every word. Is this too difficult? Too easy? Is it helpful, will my students actually learn from this? Will my students see the “fun” in English, or will they feel inadequate and give up?
I do use other materials, but I usually re-write them. Most of the material online or already published in books for ESL are either too difficult for many of my students, or obviously written for students much younger. So I usually just re-write what I find. I’m not complaining. I really enjoy this part of the job, I’m able to use my creativity and imagination, and although in many ways I’m still technologically incompetent, I’m learning. (I’m even writing the textbook I’ll be using next year, so I can really stretch myself)
I think of myself as a teacher. That is the way I define myself. I’m not sure I like defining anyone by what they do for their daily bread. But to say “I do teaching” sounds awkward and strange. We are so much more- we are what we think and feel and dream. Yet, I still say that I am a teacher. I’m passionate about it. It is what I think about, what I feel is the right for me, and what I dream about.
I am afraid that yes I am influenced a little by all the great images of great teachers in those cheesy movies that are heart warming tales of the teacher that changed everything. Movies from “To Sir with Love” to “Precious” inspire us teachers to be great. I don’t know if I am really a great teacher. I’m not that photogenic.
But even though those movies may have inspired me, their influence hasn’t been that great. The real influences on my teaching have been the teachers that I have had. Not all of the influences have been positive, but most have been.
I think the most negative influence was my second grade teacher. I still think of her when I go into the classroom. I remember her disapproving frown, the way I feared it when she looked over my shoulder, the way she held one of my worksheets up for ridicule when I smudged them. In her classroom there was only one right way, and only one way to be a good student. I was obviously a failure in both. I hated school for years because of her. Every time I go into a classroom, I say a little prayer. Please don’t let me be like her. Please let me be able to find something good and praiseworthy in all my students. Please let me be the kind of teacher that helps students find their own way to do the tasks, and be a good student.Unfortunately my second grade teacher is not as uncommon as everyone would like. Many teachers get into teaching because they are bullies.
But even more fortunately most teachers get into teaching because they were inspired. Inspired by teachers who were passionate about their subject or passionate about teaching.
I remember my 9th grade biology teacher. When I first came into the class room I admit I didn’t like her very much. By the end of the year I loved her. She followed the book- for some of the class but she also had a lot of really interesting experiments we would do. Even with this, her main influence was what she did outside the classroom. She loved “projects” — she encouraged us to find something about biology that we thought was interesting. These projects were never formally assigned. But she would find out what we were interested in, even if it wasn’t biology or science related. I remember one day she caught me. I was reading a book about dragons when I should have been taking notes. I thought I would get in trouble (again). But she talked to me about dragons, and then dinosaurs, and then reptiles. I didn’t get in trouble; I got a life time interest in natural history. To this day I’m a fan of Steven Jay Gould.
In high school I had some good teachers, some bad teachers, and a few excellent teachers. I remember one teacher; he taught history. I had always thought of myself as a bad student. Yet I did well in his class. He had a bet with his students. We had to bet how well we could do on the papers and tests. He never let us low ball the scores. If we did well, we won books. Now, truth to tell, I was a bad student I have to admit, but I still loved books. I would skip school and go to the library. I didn’t check out any history books- not even a historical fiction book. Before I had to take this class, I didn’t realize that history could be so interesting. Before it was all dates and wars. But this teacher loved the people who made history. I won two books – a biography of Harriett Tubman and a book about the queens of England. I’ve been a feminist ever since.
Despite some excellent teachers in high school and my love of books- I still thought of myself as a bad student. So it took me almost 10 years after high school to consider university. To be honest I didn’t really want to go back to school at the time. I was heartbroken, and broke after a failed love affair in Japan.
I am going to make a confession. I didn’t start as a teacher because I wanted to teach. I became a teacher because I wanted to travel. Teaching was a way to see the world. But….I thought.. jump through the hoops, get the degree, get the job, and life is good. Life got good way before the degree. I loved university. I loved the library. I loved the professors. I loved most of my classes. I still hated math.
Many of the professors at my university still loved their subject and their classes. I was lucky. I didn’t get a lot of burned out teachers. I know it happens a lot, but most of my professors were still passionate. I would talk to them after class and before class about everything. One teacher loved historical linguistics. An actual class on historical linguistics beyond an introduction wasn’t taught in our school, but I also thought it was interesting. We were not phased by this detail. She guided me to the books, and was willing to discuss them with me. She was the epitome of strict but fair. She also had a surprisingly earthy sense of humor.
These are the people I try to channel when I’m in the classroom and when I’m preparing my lessons. I want to be like them, with a passion for my subject and a way to make it relevant to the students who don’t love English the way I do. I want to influence my students the way these teachers influenced me. Except my second grade teacher. I don’t want to influence my students in that way.