Saturday, January 3, 2015

Cultivating Flowers

"Why did you become a teacher?"

I get asked this quite a bit in tones ranging from sincere inquiry to rhetorical distaste.  And now that I have my Ph.D the question and flavor have morphed into "What are you going to do now that you have a doctorate?"  The expectation is that I should move up, as if teaching is a stepping stone toward something greater or more important.

I've never viewed it that way.

I became a teacher for two reasons.  First, I love school.  Our educational system is deeply flawed but if you can tune out incompetent administrators and misguided politicians there is a heart.  That heart rests in connection.

Connection leads to my second reason.

I became a teacher to be a steady presence in a child's life, to be someone who will listen.  Adults have so much power to alter every aspect of a child's day.  How we react to things can deeply influence a child.  This can manifest in how we respond, quite literally, to spilled milk or engage a child who is confused about a concept.

It is my responsibility to nurture that child so he or she feels safe to express confusion.   I am continually aware of my responsibility to be a loving, positive influence.  I do not always succeed.  There are days I am tired or not feeling well and on those days I am not always the teacher I want to be. But I get through those moments and try to forgive myself for being less than my students deserve.

So, this year on my birthday I was touched to receive a birthday card from a student I taught in kindergarten and first grade.  She is currently in fourth grade and now her little sister is in my first grade class.  Her card contained a semantic web describing how she sees me.

Her little sister's card had just four words; funny, good, cool, and crazy.

I'll take it!

...They also gave me a copy of Curious George in Yiddish!


37paddington said...

Oh Gary. What a card. This, you should frame. I always knew you are a wonderful teacher but I love hearing your reasons for choosing to teach. Thank God there are people like you in the classroom.

Gary said...

37 - I keep some of these little cards and notes in a box. One of these days I should organize them into a photo book. That may be a good retirement project.

Pauline said...

Wish I'd had you for a first grade teacher and then as a mentor when I became a teacher! And now, in my retirement, I have done just as you think you might -made a scrapbook of all the cards kids made for me in the ten years I spent in the elementary school. It's a monument to love :)

Gary said...

Thank you Pauline for the kind words. It is wonderful to look back. I recently had an idea to blog about some of my former students. I have been at this so long that my kindergarten and first graders are now young adults out in the world. Of course, that would mean that I need to start writing on here again with some regularity. After all the stress with the dissertation I do not seem to ready yet to sit at the computer.


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