Those who can, do. Those who can’t…
I think most teachers wonder about how their students will turn out later in life. Some students struggle and always will. Some students struggle, but only for a while. Some students never struggle, but will as they grow up. Some students are wild and stay wild. Some students are wild, but learn to calm down. Some students are calm, but become wild. Some are quiet and shy and stay that way. Some are quiet and shy and grow out of it, finding their voice and self-confidence as they mature. Some are loud and outspoken, but somehow learn to shy away. Some students are mean and uncaring, and won’t ever change. Some students are mean and uncaring, but eventually learn kindness and concern for others. Some students are kind and caring, but with time, they lose those traits. Some students are thin and stay thin. Some students are thin and become fat. Some students are fat, stay fat, or become thin. Some students will become liberal as they grow up, while some become conservative. Some will be Christians, and some won’t. Some will turn out to be straight, and some will be gay, bisexual, or transgendered. Some will be short, and some will be tall. Some will keep their hair, while others become bald or gray-haired. Some will live long lives, and some will live short ones. Some of these things you can have a pretty good idea about, too, but you can often be surprised—for the best and the worst. It amazes me to know how accurate some teacher’s predictions have been—you don’t have to work as a teacher for very long to see how certain things in a child’s life can impact their futures.
I often wonder about the students I teach; not just what will happen to them in the future, but in the present as well. I wonder if the smart girl in class who always raises her hand to answer the questions will always be so smart. I wonder if the shy kid who can barely speak above a whisper will always be so shy. I wonder if the effeminate boy will grow up to be gay or bullied because of it. I wonder if the little boy or the little girl who always complains about being hungry will find any food to eat at night. I wonder if any of my students are being abused. I wonder if any of them have done things already in their young lives they’ll always regret. I wonder about all of them, and try my best to help them in whatever way I can.
Most teachers I know do worry and care about their students. In a lot of cases we’re the only ones who do. It frustrates me to no end when I hear people talk about teachers as though we’re the scum of the earth. I hear people talk about how stupid teachers are, how selfish they are, how uncaring they are, and it just makes me want to pull my hair out. To anyone who thinks those things, I say to them: you come to school day after day, spend as much time with these kids as we do, go through all the things we teachers have to go through, and tell me then that we don’t know anything, are selfish, and don’t care. The overwhelming majority of us do care. We care a great deal! I’m only a substitute teacher and I’ve spent a great deal of my own money and outside time to help students one way or another. I see teachers spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year out of their own pockets to help their students. I see teachers stay after school to help students with their homework, set up activities for the next day, attend meetings to learn new content or meet with parents, putting in days as long as ten to twelve full hours long just to help make a positive difference in the lives of their students. I see teachers put up with pay cuts, loss of benefits, uncooperative parents, media that just wants to run them down no matter what they do, cussing and physical violence from students, and administrators and politicians who in most cases don’t know their own asses from their elbows about education, who always want to change everything on every little whim, and without any input from the teachers who have to implement their ideas and know above all others what actually works and doesn’t work in the classroom.
We teachers put up with a lot. But there’s a reason we do that. We do it because we love teaching and because we care about our students. We do it because we want to impact our students in a positive way, to help them learn and improve their lives as much as we can. We wonder what will be in the future for them, and we try to make that future the best possible outcome we can help make.
I enjoy teaching immensely. I love my students and care a great deal about them. I worry about many of them. I want them to have the best education in all regards, but I know that is too often not what they’re getting. When supplies run out in the Spring; or when assistants who do so much to help the students have to be let go; or when classrooms designed for twenty to twenty-five students at most become crammed with thirty or more; or when parents refuse to help their child/children with homework, feed them adequately, provide them with decent clothing, supplies, or any sort of stable home life; or when a child is being, or has been, abused; or when the standards have been changed, dumbing down the content and leaving so much out; or when good teachers decide to give up under all the pressure; or when a student gives up on himself/herself, which breaks my heart to see happen, I know the students aren’t getting what they need under any of those very common circumstances. Every day, in so many ways, is a reminder of how lucky I was growing up. I would never proclaim to be the smartest person in the world, or to have always had the best. When I was very young, I actually struggled a great deal in school and often had limited resources. As I got older, I caught up though, despite any limitations. I thank my parents and many of my teachers for doing so much to help me catch up. They worked with me and inspired me to be something better.
Those who can, do. Those who can’t… certainly do not teach, and have no place in education. To teach, you must do so very much. You must know the content, know how to use multiple teaching strategies, manage classroom behavior, plan your lessons, communicate well with your students, parents, and coworkers, give of your own time and money on many occasions, be responsible at all times, and challenge your students to go above and beyond. You are often not just a teacher, but a parent as well. You are a role model and an example for which your students can look up to. But above all the things you do, you must first and foremost always care. Most all teachers I know do care—that’s why they became teachers in the first place. I just wish so many more people would recognize this.