A Modern Bildungsroman

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 02 2012

“Why did you want to be a teacher?”

Over spring break, I visited my college (alma mater has never been a natural word for me to say–it makes me feel like a character in Mona Lisa Smile), and I realized that one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the past year isn’t about how to lesson plan, or how to try to get kids to respect you, or how to juggle what seems like a million responsibilities.  The most important thing I’ve learned is the value of the education I received.

Let’s take a few steps back.  A couple weeks ago, one of my students asked, “Miss, why did you want to be a teacher?”  This is a comment that sometimes feels like a punch in the stomach in the context of awful classroom management, piled up work, and stress.

I told my students, “Well…I had a really great education.  I went to the same small school from kindergarten through twelfth grade–I am still best friends with girls I met in my kindergarten class, and I got really close with teachers who showed me everyday why learning matters.  We didn’t really have many issues of disrespect or bullying because everyone had known each other forever.  Learning had purpose–the skills I learned there are the skills I still use today.  I learned about the way people express themselves, the way people make sense of the world around them, the way things work, the way things should work.  School was more than school for me–it was a community where students were respected and respectful, and encouraged to be and do their best.  And I wanted to become a teacher so I could create that for other students.”

I guess this is what TFA means when it talks about vision.  Vision for me isn’t 80% mastery of objectives.  Vision for me is students loving to learn and students understanding why they’re learning.  My favorite moments in the classroom haven’t been when students have shown mastery on a skill on an exit slip; my favorite moments in the classroom have been when students have yelled to the roof workers, “Shut the f*** up, we’re tryin’ to LEARN in here!”

From kindergarten through college, I was surrounded by teachers who were passionate about their subjects and expected the most from their students.  And because of that, I loved learning.  If my mom hadn’t had me watching the Pride and Prejudice mini-series as a 5-year-old, if my dad hadn’t always asked “Are you sure there’s nothing else you want?” at the Barnes and Noble, if my professors hadn’t led engaging conversations about deconstruction and new criticism, I wouldn’t love learning the way I do now.  So maybe my classes are still not as compliant or invested as I want them to be, but keeping in mind how education made me feel can help me stay motivated to keep f***ing trying.

Not very pessimistic for a Monday, huh?

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