Allow me a moment to be slightly self-deprecating, and in that moment, beg for forgiveness.
I haven’t been teaching for very long, coming up on just two years, but I find myself, already, falling into the grouchy teacher stereotype.
I am frustrated, perhaps irritated, that so many of my seniors cannot grasp concepts that they should be masters of at this point. Many of them are unable to accomplish simple things like capitalizing “I” or using the correct tense of a verb.
When the bell rings and the students leave, I voice these frustrations to my wife, family, or colleagues. The more I talk, the more frustrated I become.
I know this is wrong. I know I need to check my motives.
And, a few days ago, these feelings of frustration came to a head.
While my students were reading, a young girl came up to me noticeably anxious. I could tell before the conversation began what it was going to be about. Graduation requirements were looming over her and she was quickly falling behind in one or more of her classes. She came to me, practically begging for help.
I sat with her for a time and went over some of her work. It wasn’t anything terribly difficult for a senior, but she was feeling overwhelmed and was unable to complete the task.
I hated it, but in my mind I was thinking, “How can you not do this? These are freshman level skills.”
In my heart, I wanted to help her. However, my way-too-old and cranky brain said, “lost cause.”
This is where I broke. After only two years, this is what I have become? Self-righteous and uncaring?
At home that night, I tried to do some soul searching. I went outside to be alone, to close myself off from all distractions, and check myself.
On a park bench in the middle of my apartment complex, I sat for a very long time. I couldn’t tell you how long exactly.
Mostly my mind was blank.
As I was sitting there however, I witnessed one of the most beautiful things.
A young man of about 22, walked out of his apartment with a bicycle and a girl.
I watched for a while and it became clear that this young man was going to teach his adult girlfriend to ride a bike. A few questions immediately popped into my mind: How can someone make it to adult hood without learning to ride a bike, and how is he going to teach her?
Over the next thirty minutes, he taught her not how to ride a bike but what a bike was. He painstakingly went over every component and part of what makes a bike a bike. As they worked together, I could see the satisfaction on his face begin to grow. A look of joy came over her face as she identified each part of the bike correctly.
The next day, as I drove through my complex, I noticed the same couple with the same bike in the parking lot. This time she was sitting on the bike and he was behind her pushing the bike and keeping her balanced. I could see the same joy from the day before on her face.
A few days later, I saw her riding around the parking lot by herself with an ear to ear grin. I knew that she must have been elated to finally be able to learn and do something that most learn to do as children.
This experienced taught me a valuable lesson. Each person is an individual. Each person has their own background and their own learning process. I have been wrong to try to lump every one of my students into the same box. Would it make my life easier if every single one of my students were able to perform at the same level? Yes. But, that is not what teaching is about. I want to be like that young man. I want to find pleasure in teaching students the things they don’t know or the concepts they haven’t yet grasped. I want to painstakingly go over every detail of every lesson until a Cheshire grin or understanding shines on the faces of my students.
To all the teachers who work day in and day out to facilitate learning, never give up on your kids no matter how frustrating it may become. To all of my students, please forgive my moments of weakness, and know that I care deeply about you.