“I think you are not unhappy here,” said my next door teacher, an intelligent, soft-spoken physics teacher with a deep appreciation for language—its potential for precision, rich meaning, and play. He doesn’t seem soft spoken due to shyness, but in order to intentionally create a peaceful space for communication. He thinks before he speaks, when he feels he can improve the silence. Another good influence to add to my development as a teacher, along with the youthful, energetic, and always cheerful ways of the teacher I’ve been subbing for while he’s on an eight day travel leave.
The variety of really lovely personalities is continually being revealed as I go through my routines throughout the building–getting my keys from inside the secretary’s office (why can’t all secretaries be like that?), attendance sheets from the office administration assistant, who is always calm, approachable, and organized, a chat with the principal in passing, who thanks me, with genuine feeling, for being there, and the assistant principal, a person of lofty stature who holds himself with a spirit of humility, and, again, approachability.
In the staff lunch room each noon I have chatted with a core of five or six who bring their lunches down–the fellow who works with special ed students is brimming with friendliness and fun, the instructional assistant with deep compassion and patience, the music teacher with a love for quality and ways of causing students to rise to the occasion. These people seem to be happy here too. I sense that they feel useful, working in their gifts and respected for what they do as well as appreciated for who they are. This is a hard job, but maybe this is a place where someone has got your back in it all, and one brings home only the kind of fatigue that is refreshed by food, sleep, and weekends.
The science teacher I worked with before is there today too, and encourages me with word that there are more science positions opening up that she has seen in a while. She has sent in several glowing references on my behalf. She’s another teacher I’d enjoy working with–I’ve seen her in action while I was sitting off in the corner helping grade papers–firm, kind, respectful, enthusiastic, consistent. I feel a little shy around her, perhaps because in some ways she reminds me of me.
Every day I work I add to my vision for how I would set up, organize, and especially–here’s where words fail me–I’m looking for an action verb sort of like “sculpt”, but applicable to the ongoing work of nurturing an essentially positive and ultimately inspiring atmosphere.I mean that–inspiring—where there is a spirit, a breath of something special–learning, knowledge, yes, but of a complex kind, knowable and able to be felt, but not measurable. As my teacher neighbor asked, will they ever realize that so much that is valuable cannot be measured by tests?
Say students like the ones I have right now show up on the first day of my teaching job in the fall. Thirty students, three with very little English, five at risk of complete disengagement for various reasons, one homeless with spotty attendance, ten highly motivated and craving challenge and intellectual connections with teachers and fellow students, four having been told they are smart but afraid of taking risks and making public errors that might contradict that claim and shatter the image, and the usual number of others with no obvious mental “tags” for me such as the previous mentioned ones, but concealing as many wonders, challenges, talents, as the rest. This time as a substitute teacher is in many ways a preparation—I am thankful to have it, as I didn’t in my first job fresh out of school–for that attempt to be useful to students, at the very least, and, at best inspirational. In the words of John Sumarah, one my former professors, it is the apparently unrealistic vision that nevertheless drives me.