Thursday, December 27, 2012

"That Was Easy!"

"Teaching is not for the faint of heart."

I think I said this at least half a dozen times this past semester to my freshmen in EDUC 101. We spent significant time looking at the challenges of teaching: the requirements for licensure, our culture's view of the teaching profession, the curricular demands, the challenges presented by working with a diverse student population, the difficulties of consistently applying a faith-informed philosophy of education. Teaching is not for the faint of heart.

On their final exam for Intro to Education, I asked the following question: "Are you still planning on being a teacher? Why or why not?" (To be fair I should note that this was really just for the interest of our department, and they couldn't get it wrong, per se.) Very interesting to read their responses to this. Most indicated that in spite of the challenges and potential downsides, they still feel called to teach. Others were less optimistic, but still sticking with a major in Education...for now. Several who came to the conclusion throughout the semester that teaching might not be for them even quoted my line above.

Teaching is hard work. Teaching isn't for everyone.

I've been in this profession for almost 15 years. I can admit it: there was a time when I thought teaching wasn't for me either.

I came to college as a computer science major. I took programming and calculus. Actually, it was calc that caused me to pause and reconsider what to do with my life--I barely passed. With several more semesters of calc and beyond in my future, I was rethinking whether computer science was really my calling. Which was a good thing, because I believe God has given me gifts for teaching, but I wasn't ready to hear that at the time.

Not sure what to do with my life, I did what every student in my situation at Dordt College in the 90's did: I visited Uncle Ron. Uncle Ron was the Director of Career Services. He listened sympathetically. He looked at me appraisingly. He paused thoughtfully. And he asked, "Have you considered teaching?"

Internally, I rolled my eyes. I had been voted "Most Likely to Invite a Teacher Over for Dinner" by my senior class--how embarrassing! Perhaps reacting to this...I was not going to become a teacher.

But Uncle Ron encouraged me to take some personality assessments and vocational assessments. And after the bubble-filling was done: my top suggested vocation--you guessed it--teaching.

Uncle Ron encouraged me to at least take Intro to Education. "Give it a try," he said. "Maybe you'll like it," he said. "And if not, you can change your major again next semester."

So I took Intro to Education. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now I teach Intro to Ed at the same institution where I took it 18 years ago.

But you need to hear me right: that doesn't mean I have this all figured out. I've definitely continued learning throughout my first 18 years in this profession. And the biggest lesson I've learned so far? Teaching is not for the faint of heart.

There are moments when I know teaching is for me--when everything is just "working" in the classroom: the students are fully present, there's an electric spark of inquiry and engagement. There are also moments where I know what Parker Palmer means when he says, "Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher." There are times when every part of my profession seems to fit my gifts and talents and peculiarities perfectly, times when I know I was made to be a teacher.

But I also know moments when teaching is just hard work--marking mountains of papers, having difficult conversations with students or parents or colleagues, managing the time requirements of the job with responsibilities outside of the job. And then there are the moments when the classroom feels awful, the students seem far away and disinterested and unreachable. Nothing I try to do seems to work, the atmosphere stifling. There are times when I wonder what ever made me think that teaching was a profession, a vocation I was worthy of approaching.

I have an "Easy" button on my desk. I press it hopefully. It doesn't work for situations like these.

So I'd ask you consider the teachers you've had and the teachers you know. Cut them a little slack. The job is anything but "easy."

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