Teaching 101: A throwback story from before the pandemic…

Thoughts from the past:

I used to think that it is much harder for female teachers to get respect than male teachers, but this is not necessarily true.  All teachers, regardless of gender, need certain qualities to be successful and gain respect. It is possible to screw this up as a man or woman.

In addition, a teacher needs to be as fair as humanly possible.  Your audience is counting on it.  High, yet practical standards are needed, but you also have to have true empathy when someone does not meet these same standards.  School is hard and it is really tough for so many students with learning disabilities, difficult home lives, or even mental illness.

In graduate school a fellow student, who had just left the Marines, was studying to be a Social Studies teacher. His name was Bill.  His six- foot tall frame seemed massive in the tiny desks we were given.  He liked to explain how qualified he was to teach his content area.

“Well, when you live through history, it makes total sense that you should be the best to teach it,” he’d say with a smile and slight laugh. The mostly female room would smile and nod in agreement. He always followed up this reasoning with descriptions of how he would handle any students who “got out of line”. Since many of my classmates were already teachers who returned to education to get their much needed Master’s degree, they would share their experiences with unruly behavior. He was never at a loss for some advice or comment on how he would have handled that circumstance.  The teacher telling the story always looked tired, but smiled and said something to the effect of “wait till you start teaching.” 

Many years later, I ran into Bill in the local supermarket. We recognized each other immediately in the Fresh Fruit section and the conversation quickly turned to teaching. I asked him where he was teaching and what he was doing.

He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair.  “Yeah, no, not teaching,” he responded. “That didn’t quite work out.”

“Really?” I questioned, truly shocked that he had not followed this path.

“Yeah,  well…I started teaching in this really good school.  It was great at first. I was teaching seventh grade Social Studies.  At first I thought it was going to be a piece of cake.  I mean how hard could it be to teach the little kids, you know?  But when I actually tried to teach, the kids wouldn’t listen to me.  It seemed like the harder I pushed them the more they rebelled against me, so I left right before the holiday break.  Those kids were just awful.  Can’t control them, you know.” 

It was then, among the grapes and the avocados, that I realized that it doesn’t matter how big you are or how tough you think you are or even how tough you think you need to be, those things have nothing to do with being a capable educator.

Prior to teaching there are a lot of things people say they are going to do in the classroom, but like any other situation in life, you quickly realize what truly works and what you are willing to do to hold up your end of the bargain.

If someone had asked me what teaching would look like during a pandemic, I am sure I would have said it could not be done. I would have shook my head and believed that someone, anyone would come up with some solution that didn’t look like the grey, flat world I am currently in.

But this is not the case, right? So what do you do? Is it even worth the asking? It’s here.

The answer is that you get up every day and you put a piece of thick cloth over your mouth and you show those vulnerable students, who are still showing up for you everyday, that you care about them. You teach.

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