Almost everyone “knows” what makes a great teacher. They’ve seen the movies, after all: “Stand and Deliver”, “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, “The Great Debators”, “Freedom Writers”, “Dangerous Minds”, and, coming soon, “Here Comes the Boom”. I mean, obviously, these teachers are bold, bucked the rules, and used rash and unconventional methods in order to get to their kids. I mean, that’s what it takes. Right?
I don’t know. You tell me. I am most certainly NOT that type of teacher. I’m not going to give up my family life to be at school until 9pm every night tutoring students. I am not going to put myself in the way of bodily harm (especially not now) to save a child from what I judge to be a bad situation; couldn’t do it legally, even if I wanted to. I’m not going to allow my work as a teacher to so consume me that I end up hospitalized from the sheer stress and pressure on my system.
I will tell you what sort of teacher I am, however. I am a teacher who is there every possible day, there for my students with the information and help that they need. I will stay after for a certain while or be there early if students need some extra time of mine in order to do better in their work. I am willing to explain when students don’t understand. I am more than happy to answer questions that feed into the building of their character, not just the development of their academic skills. For example, today, during a reading of “Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara, my lowest level class (and the one with the largest personalities & discipline issues), one of the students asked, “Why would you make fun of someone with special needs?” I should point out that this particular student has huge problems with impulse control and failure to think ahead. However, his question allowed for a quick lesson on character to this class, to which they all listened (!) and, I hope, took to heart.
So while I am not the teacher in jeans and a leather jacket showing off my marine training to my kids, or promising students who can barely do basic algebra that they will pass the calculus AP test, I AM a teacher who does my best to give my kids the best I absolutely can. However, as I tell them at the beginning of every year, I can give them all the tools they need but, if they choose to do nothing with them, there’s nothing I can do about that.
I am not a “stand and deliver” teacher. I am not. And I never will be. I believe that movies like that can create an expectation, not only in people outside of the education profession, but also in teachers like me to disregard what we already are. I refuse to watch those movies because they make me feel badly about myself, like I am “not doing enough” if I am not changing lives that dramatically. Or at least, that publicly. But you know what? I do what I do right now, even if I won’t do it forever. I do it for my students, not for myself. Miracles do not need to be cataclysmic, apocalyptic, or even just earth-shattering. Miracles can be quiet little things that few people even know exist. I think Taylor Mali said it best when he simply said,
“I am a teacher. This is what I do.”