Friday, August 22, 2008

Teachers

It's quiet this morning.  The Beve has gone back to school and is sitting in his large rocking desk chair across from shy very young new students who speak so softly their parents sitting on his long, low couch speak for them, or transfer students, some with cement bricks on their shoulders, arms crossed because they're not new to this game.  But the truth is, the Beve isn't new to this game either.  He's spun around in this chair before, jiggled the schedule a couple thousand times, looking for a hole in a class, staring at transcripts, placement cards and looking for the perfect blend of teacher and student.

Perfect blend?  What am I saying, perfect blend?  There is no such thing.  I come from a family of educators.  Both my grandfathers, both my parents, my father-in-law, my husband, my brother. My two sisters-in-law, a sister and even me for a while.  And I can tell you this, I've seen some great teachers in my day.  My dad was a great teacher. Well, he was a good teacher who became, at the end of his life, a great teacher.  He made a left turn change into a different kind of teaching at a certain late point in his career to be a more creative, hands-hands on, professor of engineering.  One cannot teach except by students doing he came to believe, and he became a great teacher.  And my mom was a good teacher.  Shoot, no matter what I felt about her as a mom, some of my friends think of her as the best teacher they ever had.  Though it bewilders me, I've come to simply accept that it's their truth.  And I think my brother and sisters in-law are good teachers.  I know them, their passions, their drives, their pursuit of excellence in what they do. Even these great teachers struggle with students at times.  Have failures.  Kids they couldn't reach, ones they wish they could 'do over' or not have in their classes. But these teachers--the best ones--spend their blood, sweat and tears on students, even when the blend isn't right, and doesn't work out.

But I've also known some really lousy teachers.  The Beve struggles as he sits at his desk having to place students in classes, because sometimes he simply has to place them in the classes of those lousy teachers.  As a counselor, he has no choice.  He has to fill every class.  And in those classes, students will struggle to learn, will not pass their tests, will come back to Beve's office, begging to be moved and there's little he can do. Those teachers end up with class sizes so small they're every teacher's dream, while good teachers--great teachers-- are overwhelmed with so many students they don't have chairs for them all.  It's a terrible system we live with in the public schools, where it's notoriously difficult to get rid of terrible teachers.  But because of poor funding, sometimes it's ridiculously easy to lose very good ones who have done the terrible wrong of simply not having taught long enough, or teaching something 'expendable' like music or drama. A few years ago, the school district here wanted to cut the choir teacher at Beve's school, who had single-handedly built the program from two anemic off-key choirs to 5 choirs busting at the seams with over 200 students--all because of funding. Students staged walk-outs, parents wrote letters (I was one of them and it was a superb letter, if I do say so myself!), and just before the school board was about to be bombarded with hundreds of people, the superintendent met with the choir teacher to give him back his job. 

I am feeling for Beve today.  He begins the year with equal measure of hope and dread.  He loves the interaction with students, loves the moments of real connection, when curtains drop in their eyes and he gets to peek in. And he loves getting the chances to point them in the right way, help them in their journey forward. But the moment isn't far off when students will be standing in line outside his door, asking to get out of the same old classes of the same lousy teachers.  That he dreads.

Jesus was called "Teacher" by those who came to see Him, even by His own disciples at times.  And that, it seems to me, implies that to teach well is to be like him. Perhaps the better one teaches, the more one reflects Him.  So, if you teach, teach well, or get out.  And if you've had a good teacher, thank God for him or her. It's a holy, holy pursuit.

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