This week, I left my classroom for the last time. I turned the key and walked away after 20 years of teaching in the same Title I high school in Phoenix, Arizona.
I did not join the teaching ranks because I thought I might enjoy standing in front of a bunch of kids hours on end. I’d been forced out of my career as a sportscaster, a victim of ageism, no longer pretty enough to be in front of a camera. I did a great deal of feeling sorry for myself as I stumbled around, trying to find a job that I loved as much as I loved being a reporter.
Because of my history as an amateur sports official, which had me dealing with young people on a regular basis, a number of friends and acquaintances suggested I go into teaching. Did I jump right in? Not at all. I just couldn’t see myself running a classroom.
Finally, with no other options, I went back to college, my bachelor’s degree in communications not enough to get me through the education door. I spent two years earning a teaching certificate. I entered my first classroom saddled with college debt and ready to teach my students journalism and video production techniques. At least, I thought I was ready.
What I never expected was just how hard teaching is. My 15 years of reporting in both television and print had turned me into a driven sort, anxious to get whatever I needed to accomplish done quickly and thoroughly, since one never knew when a story would pop up and all of my well-thought-out plans would be shredded, leaving me with just a few minutes to make adjustments before that red camera light went on.
Looking back, I can see why my students hated me. I demanded they produce their completed work on time without exception. I was blinded to the fact that I was dealing with children not professional adults. Most of my students lived in poverty and were saddled with living conditions that made homework far from the top of their to-do list. They found me abrasive and rigid. At one point, an entire class revolted and walked out, leaving me alone. I’ll admit here that I cried in front of that empty classroom.
Eventually – I’m a stubborn sort – I came to realize it was my attitude that had to change. I will be forever grateful to my fellow teacher Ann Miles for sitting me down one day. She stared across her desk. “You know, you could be … nicer.”
“Nicer! What’s nice got to do with it?” I shot back.
To her ever-lasting credit, my not-so-nice words didn’t ruffle her a bit. When I left that day, I thought about what she’d said and mentally defended myself. No one cared if I was nice in the newsroom! Are people always nice to me when I officiate games? Of course not! When coaches and fans scream at me, I don’t walk off the field. I just do my job.
But gradually I came to understand that Ann was right.
Now, I’d like to tell you that being nice is all one needs to be a good teacher, but that is far from the truth. Students are individuals with their own hopes and dreams and problems – personal, academic, and social. As a teacher, I had to determine the best way to reach each student, and frankly sometimes not so nice did work. Think freshmen boys, here. They seem to respect tough more than nice.
What I’m trying to say is teachers need lots of personality traits in their tool belts, attitudes they can quickly access when needed. A teacher needs to be thoughtful, firm, flexible, accessible, compassionate, trustworthy and, yes, nice. And though I worked on nice all the time, I was not entirely successful.
I paused in my classroom and reflected on the children I met there over the years. I realized that some of my students loved me and others hated me. There didn’t seem to be too many in the middle. I mention this because maybe I never got the formula completely right.
As I pulled my classroom door closed, I hoped my students, especially those who didn’t particularly like me, might someday understand that I tried.
I guess that’s all I can ask.
A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND
AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.
Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.
Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.
Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?
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