344. Teachers

This is teacher appreciation week, and I certainly do appreciate teachers. Most of them anyway. I’ve known a few who needed to find another profession, and a very few who needed to be shot. Sorry if that offends you, but I stand by it.

The overwhelming majority of the teachers I have known have been hard working, caring, dedicated and competent. I understand that better than most people, because I was one of them, and working along side of them. How I came to be a teacher, is another story.

First I wanted to be an astronaut, but claustrophobia and bad eyesight killed that dream before I got to high school. Then I wanted to be a scientist studying ecology, but I got to college when everyone was infatuated with the double helix, ten years before ecology burst on the scene. I studied South Asia as an anthropology major for five years, through my first MA, before reality set in and I realized that I would hate the field work. That was when I started writing, and started my second MA in History. Now I had found something I could have loved writing and teaching at the college level, but about that time there were two would-be professors for every available position.

Timing is a killer.

Money got short so I decided to do a little substitute teaching. It was a revelation.

I taught kindergarten one day and it was a disaster. I taught fourth graders — every teacher’s first choice — and almost died of boredom. I taught middle school — every teacher’s nightmare — and loved it. So I went back to college (for the fourth time), got a credential and spent the next twenty-seven years teaching sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

I have been told several times by parents that there is a special place in heaven for me because I chose to teach middle school kids. I don’t see it that way. Middle school kids are more fun than a bucket of puppies, if you don’t have to take them home with you at the end of the day. I think those parents may have been projecting some of their own feelings.

I remember one meet-the-parents night, sitting down with one of my girl students and her mother. The girl had been a fine student, not troublesome at all, and I had thought of her as mature for her age. Sitting next to her mother, she squirmed like an eight year old, talked back, and generally gave her mother hell. It was amazing to see how different her at-home personality was from her at-school persona.

Not having middle school kids at home probably accounts, in part, for liking them so much in the classroom.

I’ll tell you another secret about teaching. It takes all kinds — assuming decency and competence. Some kids will think you are great because of what you teach, or because of how you teach, or because your personality happens to mesh with theirs. Other kids will hate you for exactly the same reasons. These are your choices — if you are a good teacher, some will love you and some will hate you. If you are a bad teacher, most of them will hate you, and a few will just be happy to go to class without having to work..

If you want to be universally loved, you should choose another profession.

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