N.B. This was more or less written my last few days in Poland and is only being posted now as it is painfully clear to me that I won’t be returning to teaching anytime soon. Around that time I was thinking about finishing teaching and, as usual, the above lyrics coalesced around my feelings. Enjoy.
I can be pretty lax about a lot of things. A good example is this blog. I mean, yes it was specifically supposed to be about Georgia, so perhaps as I left Georgia in January its moribund status makes sense. But, in actuality the state it is in (B&S reference) is more due to this lax quality.
That quality (really a euphemism for laziness) has impressed itself upon my life in so many ways: my Polish language abilities, my basketball skills, some relationships, even my musical talents. You see good reader, while I was pretty convinced that I had no abilities after messing up my one note at a Christmas handbell concert in the 4th grade, any later attempt to play an instrument has been half-hearted and temporary at best. Listening to and deconstructing music, a far more passive activity, is more conducive to a lax lifestyle. Now I have refined my skills about as much as I can in this area and may even be a tone-deaf expert (oxymoron?). Yet, just like any Hollywood actor-working-as-a-waiter glaring at a TV thinking why not me, an intrinsic desire to be able to create always remains an uncomfortable parasite in my mind.
How does all of that relate to teaching?
Well (this really isn’t supposed to sound pretentious), in the past four years the strongly positive feeling I’ve had mentoring students, working in a classroom, managing time and using ingenuity to educate is something I did not expect to come from teaching. Is it the same bond a musician has with an audience? Of course not. But, not everyone is meant to be a rock star.
No other job I have experienced, or considered following university, has ever offered this choice, this opportunity to lead and interact while inciting learning. As a teacher, I’ve meandered through subjects as variegated as celebrities and history to student’s fears and dreams (I’ve also delved into debates on the inner workings of the English language!). I’ve learned so much-not all of it factual-simply by being in a position of provoking thought. To borrow from Hans Rosling, pretty neat, huh?
The good teachers that inspired me, that I worked with, and simply have met have more than shattered the many maxims about teaching e.g. those who can, teach. I find that example as antiquated as the notion of apples and doctors. Specificity and detail-something students love-add so much more to the educational soup. Thus, as an update, those that know there are as many atoms in one apple as there would be apples in the world if you hollowed the world and filled it with apples, teach. Those who genuinely do prefer to ask questions and listen to answers, teach. Those who never cease compiling new methods and ways to engage, teach. Those who lend-or arguably steal-moments in their own lives to do something great and unintentionally leave a momentous impact, teach.
I only hope in the past four years I’ve fit a bit into the above. Now as an ex-teacher, I am still unsure if I’ve learned more teaching abroad than my students have gotten from me-and that’s a definite concern. Yet, one thing that comforts me is the friendship and appreciation that I’ve received. In both Poland and Georgia, I remain awed by the gratitude my former students have shown me whether it was a meeting in the pub, random encounters on the street, when I returned to Georgia in June, or even in that classroom place. There, in the classroom, the culmination of all the hard work and dedication never seemed so sweet as when I could truly witness progress or a lesson when perfectly as planned. And when hiccups occurred, as they most assuredly did, never did they feel so, for lack of a better word, educational.
So, not all musicians play Madison Square Garden and heaven knows not all teachers are superheroes. Being king or queen of a classroom can give people a false impression of who they are; what happens in front of them is what makes them what they are. Thankfully, my students never asked me to play the handbells, and the best teachers I’ve encountered never went on tour.
Teachers aren’t rock stars-and my presumption is students around the world couldn’t be happier about that.*
*It should be noted that I’m talking about good teachers.