I can barely hold my fingers steady over the keyboard at present, and will be soon, and gratefully, folding my tired little carcass into my covers and sleeping for something in the order of one thousand years, but I wanted to take minute to write about how very, very, very much I love teaching.
And, of course, I’ve written before about my secret joy in corrupting the youth of America, as well as the benefits in having a legion of minions in the quest for my ultimate goal of one day ruling the world, but I’ve never written before about the world’s best kept secrets of our culture’s most over-worked, under-valued and precious profession.
Actually, you should come a little closer, so I can whisper it to you.
You ready? Here’s the secret:
Teaching is a pleasure.
“WHAT?” you say. “But what about standardized tests? What about behavior problems? What about paperwork? What about nasty politicians who demonize you and claim that your meager salaries are the cause of our economic meltdowns and lousy job markets?” [Author’s note:They didn’t.]
And yes, that’s all true. Teaching is a difficult and wrenching job, unnecessarily burdened by pointless forms and interminable meetings and the by-products of a society that has effectively ignored and punished its poor.
Those beautiful, grubby, snarky, graphite-smudged, over-sugared, silly, curious, responsive, smart, creative, lovely, lovely children. After only one hour in their classroom, they were already ready with damp hugs and furtive whispers of, “you’re coming back tomorrow, right?”
Yes, my darlings, I’m coming back tomorrow, I assured them. And they grinned their gappy grins.
The reasons why I am no longer a full-time classroom teacher – well, they are many. The crummy job security for one. The hours for another. And my career at present allows me to balance my passions as a writer with the needs of my children, and I appreciate that very much. But in any case, I do love the way my life is currently, that I have this opportunity to, every once in a while, access my teacher self. To remind myself of the indescribable joy that I had while managing a classroom.
Teaching requires patience, kindness, an iron will, and skin thicker than a rhinoceros’. It requires a willingness to endure logic-less exchanges with one’s superiors, to make books and resources and supplies appear out of thin air like magic, and to leap tall buildings in a single bound (well, I can’t do that, but I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen the teachers who do it every day – despite what Certain Documentarians have to say about it). It requires you to bear the pain that some of your students must bear every day – to witness it, feel it, and fight like hell to make it better. It requires one to accept foot aches, back aches, ulcers, kidney infections, gray hair, and wrinkles the size of canyons between the brows and around the mouth. It requires late nights, early mornings, hollowed out zombie eyes.
But in return – moments of grace, moments of clarity, moments of joy and love, love and love again. In teaching, we love the whole child – the child they are, the child they were, and the adult they will become. We get to see the future in this job, and that ain’t nuthin’.
Teaching is an act of love, and we’d all do well to remember that. And I’m glad that, in my sporadic return to the classroom world, I get a chance to remember it, and re-remember it. Because it makes me appreciate all the more the men and women who have dedicated their lives to teaching my children. And your children. And my neighbors’ children and the children who may one day read my books, and the children who will one day drive my busses and fix my plumbing and heal my illnesses and run my country and lovingly bury me when I’m dead and gone. Each one of those kids had legions of teachers who guided them, worried about them and loved them.
So I feel pretty lucky. And happy. Despite the fact that right now, I’m so tired I feel as though I’ve been sapped utterly – I am dry leaf, dry grass, a papery husk in an insistent wind – it’s been a pretty good day. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow.