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Monday, 11 April 2016

It's about the relationship: Kids I Love

On some days, I wonder why I became a teacher in the first place.

There's no money.
Papers keep coming in, and the marking never ends.
Where's your thesis? Work on your transitions. Why are there still comma splices in your writing?
At three o'clock, I'm utterly and totally exhausted.

What is it about this profession that keeps me coming back to the classroom, year after year?

When I first started teaching, I taught because I wanted to create a more just and equitable world.
Over the years, I taught because I loved literature, poetry and language, and I wanted to share my passion for words with others.

Most recently, however, I've realized that I teach because of the kids. One of the biggest lessons that I've learned about effective teaching is that you have to teach because you care about kids. The kids have to matter more than the texts, more than any outside goals or ideologies, more than just about anything.

 Ultimately, teaching is about forging a strong relationship with kids, meeting them where they are in the learning process, and then, to borrow Kahlil Gibran's words,  "leading them to the thresholds of their own minds."

I think good teaching is also largely about being yourself. When I think back to the teachers and professors who moved me, I remember teachers who told stories, who gave advice, who made me smile. Professor Bertolini, for example, related Shakespearean plays to his own life; when we read texts about life and death, he told us how he felt when his parents died and he was forced to confront his own mortality. The best teachers and professors were not afraid to be totally and completely human.

Teaching is a uniquely human profession, and to be a good teacher, most of all, you have to be a living, breathing, honest human with passion and feeling and energy and idealism. You have to share your experiences and questions, your ideas and even your failings. You have to be compassionate and kind. You have to be real.

And this, perhaps, is what I love most about teaching: the relationship between teacher and student. And I'm extraordinarily fortunate. Over the last few years, I have taught some of the coolest kids in the world.

 Kids who work very hard, who demand so much of themselves.
Kids who smile and laugh and say thank-you at the end of class.
Kids who see me during lunch because they want to do better on their papers.
 Kids who take a stand and argue their position with spirit and conviction.

 Kids who respond emotionally to literature -- the student who genuinely admires Atticus Finch and says he wants to be like him, the student who cried when Tom Robinson was unjustly convicted, the student who was never fully  convinced that Romeo really loved Juliet, the student who read The Kite Runner and exclaimed that he had finally found a book he loved.

 Kids who get totally engrossed in the heat and energy of a good discussion.
 Kids who stand up and share a poem with their peers, despite the knocking knees and trembling hands.
Kids who listen quietly.

So why do I teach now? I think it's because of the kids I love.

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