20 May 2016

To My Student (Re)considering Teaching

Part of my final today was a student reflection on the project we were completing and on math class as a whole. My most conscientious student spent a long time writing today, and was intentional about making sure I was going to be reading her reflection. This was her response to the question, "What non-math skills have you learned this semester?"
"Out of everything I’ve learned from this class non-math wise, I've learned to change my backup plan to be a teacher. I don’t understand how you can deal with disrespect like this without snapping! How, did you do it? I would honestly love to know."
I was honestly conflicted with how to take this question. Should I be flattered that she acknowledged I might have "deserved" to go off on a kid but she noticed I had not? Disappointed that I was unable to show her the parts of my job that I love in that 6th hour math class? A little insulted that teaching is her backup plan to begin with? :)

Image via Justin Mazza, Flicker

This was my response.

I don’t think that my experience with your classmates should change your plan to teach - I love my job, and the days I go home questioning my life choices are very few and far between. :)

Frequently when I talk about work and purpose with my friends, it seems that I tend to get more satisfaction and fulfillment out of my work than people that work in other industries. I believe that God cares about the work we do and has a specific purpose for us in that work, and that my job right now is to be a white guy in a predominately black school and to care for kids. I don’t like some of my students on some days, but I always love you all, and I want you all to be kind people and be teenagers and adults that contribute to their community to create beautiful things, solve problems, and care for their neighbors.
It completely matters to me who all of my students are as people, which is why I have such a hard time ignoring annoying behavioral things some days. I would never want a teacher to let one my own kids make poor decisions because “that’s on them,” so I commit to the same for all of you.

As far as solving problems - real problems in our world, whether in government, engineering, writing, etc., are not confined to questions on a test, so my professional goal for my classes right now is to better reflect that in the tasks I have you perform. I have in no way attained that yet, but I believe it’s a matter of civil rights that I do what I can to make sure I give you more than a grade on a test that ultimately turns into a piece of paper that says you’ve graduated. I believe a high school (or even college) graduate that does not feel empowered to think about and create solutions to challenges in their lives or communities had been cheated by their school experience.  

To circle back to your question - how do I deal with the disrespect with snapping? Ultimately it comes down to the truth I get from the Bible in the creation account that humans are made in “the image of God,” which means to me that no matter how a kid is treating me, I have a responsibility myself to see them with that value. Everyone is worth a loving/caring action (as much as I can muster LOL). So I have people pray for me a lot about my relationships with my students, and I pray for you all and your relationships with each other, and God grants me the grace daily to start over. On a parent level, I have never seen my kids change their behavior and mature as a result of screaming and nagging, so I know that anytime I do that as a teacher it's really just to make myself feel better (and that’s an unhealthy path to emotional well-being). 

I make positive choices, such as intentionally looking out for students doing cool stuff, and do my best to avoid negative conversations about students.  

I hope you’ll reconsider your conclusion about the horrors of teaching, and whatever you do, I trust that you’ll continue showing care and thoughtfulness for others. I’ve found that you’ll feel much better about your life when you look back if you can measure how soft your heart is toward your relationships, rather than the things you’ve accomplished or the stuff you’ve accumulated.  

Have a great summer!

I know that you know that what we do as teachers matter - I was thankful today to get to communicate that to one my students.