TRUE STORY: TEACHING IS HARD. I know, you are probably thinking I’m going to talk about low pay, and low respect, or how difficult students and parents can be. NUH UH. Not me. First of all, I taught PRIVATE school for 15+ years and I could write an entire book about LOW PAY!! Lord, the first time I saw what they were going to pay me in the public school system — I burst into tears. The lady going over the contract with me was like, “I know. I’m just so sorry we can’t give you credit for more years, but this is the best we can do.” And I was like, “Lady! I have NEVER, EVER made this much money! This is the biggest number I have ever seen!” (Pro Tip: This is not how you negotiate for more money).
NOPE. That isn’t what makes teaching so challenging.
So, it must be the kids, right? WRONG AGAIN. You know what kids are? HUMANS. Humans are pretty complicated in some ways, but in most ways, humans are pretty simple. Adult humans and kid humans want to know that they are seen and that they matter. I’ve taught some kids with some pretty tough shells around them and it wasn’t easy. My buddy, Shauna can tell you that some groups of students can really test your ability to discover the best way to help them develop their academic skills. But on a certain level, that part of teaching is something I enjoy — it pushes me to develop my craft. It becomes a puzzle that I need to solve.
NO, those aren’t the things that make teaching incredibly challenging. The greatest challenge of teaching is that LEARNING HAPPENS ON THE INSIDE. I used to tell my freshman (give a holler if you remember), that learning is something invisible, and it is something I cannot make you do. You can be present in the room, you can be facing me when I’m talking and even writing down the words that I tell you to write, but that doesn’t guarantee that you are really, truly learning. When I first realized this, it kind of freaked me out. Test scores and class performances are one thing, but actually teaching is on a whole different level. How on earth can I ever know if I have really taught anyone, anything! I can have a stellar lesson, but that doesn’t mean my students are engaged and tracking with me.
I once got a letter from one of those long-ago freshman that read, “I cannot remember a single thing you said in class. I don’t even remember the books that we read in class. I do remember when you found me outside crying because my boyfriend had just been screaming at me. You took me inside your classroom and said, ‘Being in love should be fun, and no matter what anyone has told you, your feelings are important. How you feel matters.’ I know I was supposed to learn about English, but I learned something that sounds dumb now. People who love you should not hit you.” When I got this letter and read that sentence about not remembering a word I said in class, I was like, “BUT SOMETIMES I WAS BRILLIANT!” Of course when I read the rest of the letter, I was stunned. (Also, did you catch this student knew when to use ““ and when to use ‘ ‘) I had almost no recollection of the day she was writing about, but it was a critical point in her life, obviously. See, that’s why teaching is so tough. You can never tell what is happening on the inside. I thought she was in the room to learn about Romeo and Juliet, and Lord of the Flies, but she was learning something completely different.
For the record, Romeo and Juliet and Lord of the Flies are really important. You do NOT want to get me started on this topic — trust me. However, I cannot teach my students anything about those books, or anything else for that matter, if I have not taken the time to get to know them, and their learning needs. I need to be able to tell what their face looks like when they understand something and what it looks like when they are confused.
Some of last year’s reading students looped with me, so it makes things a little bit easier. For example, I have one student who nods their head, and says, “uh huh” whenever they are totally confused. I can say to them, “Does that make sense?” and they will nod and say, “uh huh” but it will sound a little bit like a question. I discovered this last year. They are uncomfortable with telling me that they DO NOT understand, and so they politely nod. Now, I know that it is actually a tell that they are lost, and I need to figure out what supports they need to find their way clear of the confusion.
See, teaching is a challenge. The only way I can know what my students are thinking is if I ask, and even then — it might not tell me the whole story unless I know them. Even my own Offspring got mad at me the other day because I didn’t know they were upset. “But I asked you.” I explained. “You said you were fine.” The glare I got is the type of glare that only can be delivered by a teen. “You only asked me once. I would have told you the truth if you had asked again.”
Humans are complicated.
All of which is not a complaint. I hope this doesn’t sound like a complaint. I enjoy puzzles and challenges, but I think it is good to remind ourselves that the work we do — as teachers, but in other careers as well is so much more than it appears to be on the surface. The truth is that LISTENING to my students is the key to really seeing what is happening which sounds simple but have you ever had a 3rd grader tell you a story or a joke? I think it goes back to that watermelon-smashing story from day 19; THINGS THAT ARE STRONG TAKE A LONG TIME TO GROW. That’s fine. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m dug in and always ready to . . .
Keep moving forward,