As we head into the holiday break, I am reminded that I now face just one semester as a teacher. I will then retire following 20 years in the classroom. With that in mind, I have been thinking about what is easily the toughest job I’ve ever had.
I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years. I was a maid for a while, so I cleaned other people’s toilets. I’ve been a server in a restaurant, as well as a bartender. I’ve worked in retail selling clothes. I stood for hours on an assembly line as a cutter in a press clipping bureau. I’ve officiated amateur sports, where on a regular basis spectators and coaches had no qualms about calling me names and questioning my parentage. I was a TV sports reporter where viewers took pot shots at my clothes and hair styles and print reporters gleefully published every error I made.
But none of these rank with the toughest job I’ve ever had: Teaching.
I did not become a teacher until I was 45, a mid-life career change that was not what I expected. I’d grown up with the adage “Those who can’t do, teach.” I thought working in the classroom would be easy, especially considering the jobs I’d had previously.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Here’s the thing. Most forms of employment require workers to complete tasks to receive a paycheck. Do your job. Get Paid. Simple. Teachers, however, have to make other people complete tasks. Of course, managers deal with this in the professional world, but teachers generally must make children complete tasks, and convincing kids of the importance of producing completed assignments on deadline is daunting.
I tried to be a hard-ass early on, which resulted in a mini revolution.
“We don’t need you!” A pretty student yelled from her desk. Then she stood and summoned the others, every one of whom followed her out the door. I stood in front of that empty classroom and cried.
What I failed to realize was that children are individuals with individual needs. I teach in a Title I school where the vast majority of students live in poverty, their lives affected by abuse, neglect, addiction, hunger, homelessness, and abandonment. When I first became a teacher it never occurred to me that these predicaments made school secondary. It seems silly now that I never considered a hungry child might be unable to think about homework.
Slowly, I came to understand that teaching was not just about passing information along in an orderly progression. I also had to grasp what a child might be going through outside of school, before I could figure out how to help them grow.
I am now in the middle of my 20th year as a teacher. At the end of the school year, I will leave my classroom for the last time. Like any teacher, I wonder if I’ve done any good. I hope so, but rarely do teachers hear from students after they graduate, so we never really know if our classroom methods worked or not.
All we can do is hope.
Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group
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As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.