Thursday, March 5, 2015

Teaching: Not What I Do but Who I Am

Today I was reading an article on Helen Keller with my students. (Their curriculum must really like her, she shows up three times in their text books.) Every time I read the Helen Keller story, I am so touched and amazed by her teacher, Anne Sullivan. That is not to say that Helen wasn't wonderful, determined, etc but I think her teacher was a very special person. And today, that story got me thinking about my own identity as a teacher.

I always used to say that I would never be a teacher. My mom is a teacher. Two grandparents were teachers. And let's not get into the extended family. I used to hear that teaching ran in the family and that I was destined to be a teacher. So naturally, I decided that I would never be a teacher. Besides, I saw the hard work that my mom did, working long after school ended. Additionally there were the 'helpful' (ahem ... ignorant) persons who used to tell me that I was too smart to be a teacher, that I would be wasting my intelligence if I became a teacher. So it was settled. I was not going to be a teacher. End of discussion.

I graduated high school and I had a long list of careers that I did not want to pursue. Doctor? Nope. Lawyer? Definitely nope. Anything in business? Nope. Anything that required sitting at a desk for most of the day? Nope. Wonderful. I knew what I didn't want to do but I wasn't sure what exactly I did want to do. Somewhere along the line I stumbled into the Teachers' College in St Vincent. Honestly, not because I was sure that I wanted to teach. I still wasn't sold on that idea. But I had to start somewhere and it was what I considered the best of my bad options. And go figure. The joke was on me. I fell head over heels in love with teaching.

Fast forward a few years. I was just starting out in my current job. And both 'Caletra' and 'Ferdinand' were too long, too foreign or just too much for my students (5 and 7 years old at the time) to wrap their little American mouths around. So they started calling me Teacher. And it stuck. That's it. Teacher. I get amused looks when I take them on trips and persons hear them calling me Teacher. Pipsqueak #2 (my younger student) has asked me if I have any other names besides Teacher. And forget trying to teach whether the word 'teacher' is a proper noun (capitalized) or a common noun (no capital letter). Let's just use another example for that lesson, shall we?

But you know what? I like it. I like being called Teacher. Because that's who I am. It's not all of who I am. I do have an identity outside of my classroom but being a teacher is a huge part of my life.

I'll never amass a fortune from teaching. I might not make it into the history books. There might not movies about my life. There'll probably never be buildings or streets named in my honor. I might not get a Noble Prize or inducted into any Hall of Fame. Possible? Maybe. Probable? Nah. But it's ok. Really it is. I don't need all of that. I'm happy with knowing that every day I give of my best and that I'm shaping one teeny, minute corner of the world. There's a quote that I came across. It says that teachers touch the future (Author Unknown). There is another quote that says 'what teachers write on the blackboard of life, can never be erased'. And I believe that. I still remember my kindergarten teacher. We all have teachers that we remember or still talk about, for better or for worse. I don't know how my students will remember me. I can't know for certain how my influence will impact their lives. But I hope that it's in a good way. Teachers have such amazing jobs, that brim both with potential and with responsibility.

I don't know how long my students will call me 'Teacher'. As they get older, they might gradually start calling me by my actual name. But I'm not in any hurry for that day to come.

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