Again I observe that I dread the responsibility of being in charge, but work very hard to craft a high quality lesson, one I can stand behind and which contains personal elements and something to truly engage. I spend too much time–will I ever get more efficient at this? I gather the best materials I can, write out the plan, create props and examples, envision active, enthusiastic students who want to go deep and do their best. I mix it up, with art or music, reading aloud, questions for discussion, and food if possible.I overplan, but then flex toward teachable moments so things often take a different direction–the path of most engagement with what turns out to feel most important for these particular students.
Also I doubt, and ask myself, what do I think I’m doing, all this for one hour, even half an hour, and not even to get paid and shouldn’t I get back into that? I question my ability, question any possible positive impact I might have, wonder if I should call in before next time and suggest they find someone who can wholeheartedly sign the statement of faith or be more less likely to suggest a different translation, someone who can stick with the program, pass out the colorful worksheets and follow the idiot-proof plan and above all, stay organized.
On the way I energize, talk to myself, mentally prepare, pray for a clear mind and a big heart that the students can feel. The radio is off and I review my introduction and check the flow of ideas and processes. I arrive early, jot down the general structure on the board so I can keep track, write my name up in the corner in case anyone needs it.
It’s a big group today, and an assistant has been sent. Good, I suppose, since I don’t always remember to use the discipline plan for the hyperactive boy, or even remember that’s it’s supposed to be a problem that he wants his drawing to be different from all the rest, or wants to sit on the spinning chair or say bunny is spelled b-u-t-t. I forget I was told that someone doesn’t like to draw, and never do notice who that might have been. When I’m teaching I mostly forget what was in the individual files and briefings–previous convictions, behavior-modifying medications, persistent attitudes toward authority figures. They are fresh humans, and I’m ready to look for the best they have. When adult helpers are in the room I mostly ignore them, though I’m getting better at asking for assistance with materials or engaging them in the discussion too. I give no special acknowledgement to my supervisors and overseers, though I suppose they must come around sometimes.
I love teaching. I can almost always find a connection with the kids on some aspect of the material. They ask questions, they tell stories, they create, they bring us in unexpected directions. Something good usually comes if it. My own children love to hear about my lesson, how it went, the challenges and how I handled them, the funny and interesting things that went on. They see my energy, probably wonder why I wasn’t always so uplifted when I was homeschooling them. More than one has already expressed interest in being a teacher themselves. And there I go again, I can’t give it up. I think about the moments of connection, each interesting person, and wonder what more can I discover, what more do they want to learn, and what will we do next time. I get caught up in the grand scheme, think of the possibilities, wonder how I can incorporate more richness.
And yet, when I think of what I’d have to go through as a teacher returning to the public school after all these years away, I am daunted. Study all my core subjects and take the West-E tests, update my endorsements, get enough teaching hours to work on the next level of teaching certificate. Make sure I fit the criteria for Highly Qualified. Solicit other teachers and administrators to observe and evaluate me, gather fresh references. Learn about the latest legislative developments, trends, fads, and take all the trainings. Learn to respect and submit to administrators simply because of their position of power and even though they left the role of classroom teacher and the opportunity to gain experience that would have made them worth listening to as a mentor and guide. Plan lessons for large groups of students rotating through in several subjects with an hour or two of prep time plus whatever I can carve from family time, sacrificing some of the support I would have provided to my four children in the mornings and evenings in order to hole up with classroom assignments and grade to the rubrics, quantify outcomes. Try to meet impossible expectations, be everything to everyone. Go to staff meetings that might be less than relevant, less than efficiently run, less than democratic, discussing ideas about things other than ways to improve our service to the children in our classrooms.
And so, while I continue to work on the projects that engage my attention and time at home and try to be a good mother and spouse, I try to find that opening, both in the field and in my own mind. Read all I can, try to get enthused and not discouraged or outraged, try not to create castles in the clouds with my ideas about itinerant teaching in the classical style, offering students after-school classes in the history, politics and economics of American public education, creating useful skills classes, converting school lawns into gardens and jackhammering paved play yards and strewing them with logs, boulders, digging mud holes then letting children jump in them, planting trees and letting them climb.
I think I just might become an emotional wreck if I go back. The beautiful moments–and there always will be those–would stand in such stark contrast to what I perceive to be the soul-grinding conditions of the modern public school teacher who wants to do his or her best for the students, I would be bursting into tears at the end of each day, and sometimes in the middle.