Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why I Teach

Dear Readers,
I'm going on a vacation. From blogging. Also from my house, and from my state. And from my computer. I won't be gone long, (like... two weeks?) and by popular demand I have a planned post on SKILLS-BASED CURRICULUM that will pop up while I'm away for your reading/teaching/geeking pleasure. I'm going to leave you with another serious post though, because it just felt right to write about this. I was forced into considering why I teach this morning, and I started wondering how many of you ever took the time to think about why you do this crazy thing you do and decided I had to share my thoughts NOW. So, here you go.

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A former student and great friend of mine is having a bit of a life crisis at the moment, and I'm sure nearly all of you can relate. He's questioning what he wants to do with his life. We've all been in his shoes... you think you know which way you'll go when you reach this part of your life path, but then you start to wonder about the other road. Where would it take you? Would it be the better journey? Would you find what you're looking for that way? Or is that way the mistake and you should just go with the original plan? It's like I told him in my letter: you know they're going to happen and you can see them coming a mile away, but somehow these crucial little junctures in your life journey just kind of sneak up on you and you think, Oh my God, which way do I go? As I was writing him back, I started getting into why I chose the path that I chose and while I was writing to him, I realized that it's not a topic I've ever really gotten into here. This blog is kind of a record of my time as a teacher so far and my goal for it has evolved. I originally started blogging just for me, just about some life experiences, but my posts about teaching started ringing true to so many other teachers that nowadays I really focus on blogging in the hopes that my teaching experiences and ideas and failures will help other teachers out there in some small way. But I've never told you about why I teach. I've touched on it in some posts (like this one and this one and this one) but I guess I've never given you my story.

So that's today; I want to share with you why I became a teacher in the first place and why I'm still doing it, despite being five years in and a baby and daycare costs and our state governor and ECAs and shit salary and everything else that makes teaching seem like a bad idea.

Why I Became a Teacher: My Inspiration
I'd be willing to bet that behind every really amazing teacher is at least one really amazing teaching mentor or source of teaching inspiration. I have been blessed with many really incredible teachers. My 7th grade teacher I talked about in this post. I had a World Civilizations teacher my freshman year who made me work my ass off. I had never had to work hard in a class until that one. I was one of those special snowflakes that never needed to study until I took World Civ. That teacher was funny as hell, but she also meant business. SO MANY NOTES, SO MANY DATES TO MEMORIZE, SO LITTLE TIME. (Ironic, since the course content basically started at the beginning of time.) I had another history teacher who taught a history elective that changed every semester (we did a history of food and a history of conspiracies) and that was a really cool. I had a really wonderful Spanish teacher for a very brief time who encouraged us to be creative and loud and have fun, as long as we did it in Spanish. I had an honors English 10 teacher with this seriously dry sense of humor who taught me how to write a research paper (and from that point on I've liked writing research papers). My honors English 12 teacher is deserving of his own "Ode to K.T." post for being my greatest inspiration, though he'd probably hate something like that, so I'd never write it. The thing that stands out about all of these teachers, though, is that their classes were different. It was something different every day. Each classroom had a "vibe" that you only got to experience in that room, during that class period. In World Civ, it was this "we're all in the trenches, but we're all in this together" vibe mixed with this "ha ha, she is hilarious and she is crazy and we love her and we hate her" vibe. That one semester of Spanish was a fiesta every day, but in a good way. It was organized chaos and I learned more Spanish in that one semester than in my other three years of Spanish combined. And in that honors English 12 class, it was less of a vibe and more of a "profound feeling" (to use my former student's words). That teacher was real with his students. He was so intelligent, but he was also very wise and worldly. He had his own agenda for that class, for sure. Administrators probably hated his guts sometimes because he wasn’t the kind of teacher who was worried about the standards. You know how many papers I had to write in his class? Like one? Two? And one of them was a letter to my third grade buddy that I had in his class, because he made us all go be third-graders the spring before we graduated to truly appreciate our educational journey and childhood and how far we had come. Our first speech in his class (second week of school!) was an epiphany speech, where we had to have some kind of really personal discovery and we had to lay it on the podium for everyone to see and that one speech made me feel more connected with my peers than anything else ever had. From that moment on, my 5th period English class was a family. We didn’t all get along, and a lot of us didn’t even talk outside of that class, but there was 50 minutes of “profound feeling” every single day in that classroom as the teacher introduced us to the world outside of our little corner by bringing in exotic food and reading amazing literature and giving us these soul-searching tasks that made us think deeply about who we were. And you could tell that whenever we were into it, the teacher was into it, and there was no place he would rather be, because teaching is his calling. He could have done any number of things with his life. He could have gone on to teach at a university, or he could have been a writer, or directed professional theatre, or who knows what else. His potential was intense. But there he was, showing a bunch of kids the world, broadening their horizons, making them realize there is so much more to this life than what could be found in southern Indiana. And I realized that I had to do the same thing as him. I wanted to make a difference to someone, the way he and Mr. B and so many others had made a difference to me.

Why I Still Teach, Despite It All: The Calling
A “calling” is “a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career.” In that way, theatre was (and still is) my calling. If theatre is “just a phase," then I’ve been in that phase for fifteen years. Theatre is a huge part of my life. One day I hope to return to the stage as an actor. I ache for that sometimes, I honestly do. I really miss acting.

But I’ve also seen “calling” defined this way: “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.” I am not a person of strong religion, but I am a person of great faith. I don't want to get too preachy here, but teaching is my “truth,” at least at this stage in my life. Right now, I feel confident that I am doing exactly what God calls to me to do. Right now, I am truly invested in being a teacher. I’m a believer in helping others and I think I am doing that as a teacher. Do I get the "profound feeling" every single day? Nope. There are days where I want to bash my head against the Smart Board or the stage, depending on where I’m at or what I’m teaching. There are days I wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing. I know I will question that a lot this fall when I put Liam in daycare for the first time. But any time I question God about why He has led me here, I see the answers in the letters hanging behind my desk, the thank you letters that Mr. Martin has his students write to a teacher who has had an impact on them. Some of these are kids that I had no idea I was connecting with. I see the answers when a student comes to me for help, or for a shoulder to cry on. His response is never clearer than it is when I get to watch my students take a bow opening night, that special instant where both of my callings collide.

I have this theory that a lot of theatre kids – myself included – feel a strong urge to go into theatre after high school because we love it so much, because it makes us feel alive and important and necessary, because of that profound feeling you get when the spotlight hits your face. I was very much afraid to let that go. But the thing is… you can experience that feeling elsewhere, if you are called to it. If medicine is your calling, you will know that feeling when someone grasps your hand with tears in his eyes and says, “Thank you. You saved my life.” Trust me… I know. I had a student this year who will remain nameless who thanked me for saving hers. If you are called to write, your curtain call will be the immense feeling that will well up in your chest when you sign a copy of your book for a breathless fan who thanks you for pouring your heart and soul into the words, like my curtain call is when a parent hugs me at her son’s top ten banquet and thanks me for everything I did for her kid.

If there is such a thing as “the meaning of life” I’ve kind of decided right now that our purpose is to figure out what we are called to do and how we will serve others. Some people are called to the theatre; they serve others by helping them experience life through someone else’s eyes. Some people are called to heal; they serve others by giving them a second lease on life. Some people are called to teach; they serve others by sharing knowledge and tools for success later in life.  At this moment in time, I am called to teach, and I will teach until God calls me to do something else with my life.

Is teaching your calling? Or is it something else that draws you into the world of education? I would love to hear about your reasons for being a teacher! Feel free to give a shout-out to your teaching inspiration or to share your reasons in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!