Last night I attended my 42nd class reunion/mutual 60th birthday party. We had those four formative years in common and had gathered twice before to swap how that common experience had shaped our lives. Twenty two years had passed since our last gathering so there was lots to talk about. Two different people made off hand comments to me that I’ve been mulling ever since. Both remarks communicated the same idea, “Oh, you were only a teacher? You were so smart in high school, I thought you would accomplish a lot more.”
I reacted the second time and the speaker protested, “I meant it as a compliment.” I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around it then but I have now. And yes, by the way, I was only a teacher and I was smart because it’s really important to have intelligent passionate people go into teaching.
I was only a teacher, I only worked for 35 years with adolescents teaching them world languages plus the the concept of understanding, valuing and accepting other countries, cultures and ways of communicating.
I was only a teacher, I only tried to make children feel like they could succeed in my classroom and realize the steps necessary to reach that success. I only cared about how they did in my class that year, the next level, school in general and all of their future life.
I was only a teacher, I only took kids to France 10 times and let them see the world. I only brought them to elementary schools and had them teach language to younger children. I only brought them to Spanish restaurants to learn about new cuisine, flamenco dancing and how to eat without grossing out the table.
I was only a teacher, I only tried to find the talents that each child possessed. I only read and corrected their essays, paragraphs and projects learning about their lives and caring about the way I could find to make each child feel good in my class and school. I taught for right brained, left brained children. I devised activities and evaluations for auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic learners.
I was only a teacher, I only tried to motivate students to do what they would have preferred not to do and do it to a high degree. I only held them to a high standard of academic achievement.
I was only a teacher, I only tried to make each kid improve by holding them accountable when they messed up as well. The boy who flipped me off the day before Prom? I said, let him go but have him work as a volunteer at the Special Ed Prom next week so he sees not everyone has the gifts he does. The girls who shoplifted on my field trip and were detained by the Chicago Police? I argued that they should not be suspended but meet once a week in a book club where we read and discussed a YA book with a heroine who stole. Instead of punishment, these kids learned and became better people.
I was only a teacher, I only did service projects with my classes, my clubs and my team. We collected books for students in China, wrote cards to children with cancer, communicated with soldiers in War Zones and they made French or Spanish cards for their Moms on Mother’s day. It’s hard to make kids care about someone besides themselves and because I was only a teacher, I did it every year.
I was only a teacher so what did it matter that I graduated in the top 5% of my High school class, attended the University of Illinois as a James Scholar, graduated Cum Laude and had a Master’s degree plus 45 hours. Could it be that kids learn best from teachers who are smart and intellectually engaged themselves?
I was only a teacher who was awarded a master teaching award, two National Endowment for the Humanities grants and a Rockefeller grant. Could it be that children learn well from passionate teachers who were constantly learning themselves?
I was only a teacher so I may not have made as much money as other graduates of my High School class.
But I made a difference every damn day.
And I am sew happy I did.
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If you enjoyed this one about teaching, you might want to check this one out as well.