Friday, May 14, 2010

This I Believe: Teaching is infinite.

I'm torturing my students, again, or so they believe.  I'm making them write (Gasp!) and think (Shocking!) during this current project.  Using the NPR books and series "This I Believe", I am having my students write their own belief statements. 

Put that way, it sounds religious in nature, but that's not it. One student is writing about how he believes in anger, and how releasing anger, feeling anger, at the right time can be productive.  Another student is writing about how he believes in music.  Another sees the purpose behind telling the truth (those nasty consequences that come about from being caught in a lie...)

So, I thought I would give it a go, too.  I am always saying to the kids that I won't ask them to do something that I am not willing to do myself.  Money - meet mouth...


I believe that teaching is infinite.  I label myself as a this-teacher or a that-teacher, or I say I want to be another-teacher, but that is all too confining for what I do every day.  Better, actually, to say it is what I strive to do every day.  Admittedly, some days I miss my mark.  Other days I miss it by a whole universe.  But some days, I nail it smack on the head, and leave knowing I did good.  Like the perfect golf swing that results in the perfect ball, these moments do not come around very often but are so rewarding in and of themselves that it pulls us back, despite our better judgement, to try again to get that feeling, that lift, that joy.  Sounds a bit like taking drugs, doesn't it?

My teaching is infinite because it ripples.  I may only have 12 kids in front of me, but every one of those kids has his or her own circle.  Maybe we discovered something in class today, maybe we had a discussion over something amazing, and maybe that student went home, and shared this piece of amazing information.  My student left inspired.  He is, in turn, trying to inspire someone else.

And who could resist inspiration in the form of an exuberant 12 year old boy whose face lights up when talking about this amazing piece of knowledge he gained today?  If it works as it should, the inspiration does not stop there.

Nor does the influence stop when school is over and my students have moved on to bigger things, older grades, tougher work.  My influence stays with them, in the inspiration, the perspiration and the exultation that resulted in the things we learned together.  Maybe it was my unwillingness to ever really give up on them, my constant pushing to find the greatness within themselves.  Maybe it was simply a root word, found in some foreign text or heard on the news or read in a paper, and the light bulb goes off..."I remember that - Mrs. Jensen drilled those damn roots into our heads..."

Maybe it is the debate, the days we push the curriculum aside to talk about things that really matter: the kid who brought drugs to school, why so-and-so has a probation officer, the girl who killed herself because she was bullied to death, and what we can do to make our lives, our community, our world, a better and a safer place not only for ourselves, but for those around us.

I am the force that shapes my classroom, for better or for worse.  I am not a hand-holding-coddling teacher who allows her students to use their disabilities as a crutch.  I push then, I expect them to be better when they leave my classroom than they were when they arrived, not only in academics, but in self control, self reliance, self confidence.  I expect them to bring out into the world some of what they learned from me.

And I expect that effect to ripple on through the pond of community.  To live and last longer than I will.  To become infinite.


Corinne said...

Such a powerful post. I think that it so important for us to know what we believe, and to start thinking about it early. I had one teacher in high school who this reminds me of, and I am still thankful, to this day, for the lessons that came from his classroom.
Thank you for this - and I wish there were more teachers like you out there :)

Amber said...

And your teaching really is infinite because those kids will look back on you and forever thank you.