June 18, 2003

Here's to the teachers

I am hard-pressed to remember the names of any of my college professors, at least from the University of Arizona. When I was going there I wound up in 1000-student lectures in the auditorium three days a week, with one discussion section led by a grad student. Later at Hawai'i Pacific I had classes small enough to get to know the instructors (we'd have an evening stats class, and afterwards the prof and a couple of us went downstairs to the bar and shot the breeze while having a couple of beers and doing the homework for the following week). I remember an International Business class taught by the Dean of the College to five other students and myself. But mostly, the college profs have faded from memory. High school, though...

The best teacher I've ever had taught French levels III, IV, and V and Russian I and II. He was so good that when he announced at the end of French III that he would be starting the first Russian classes in the state high school system (this was 1966), two-thirds of the French class immediately registered for Russian I for our junior year. Most of us stuck with it through our senior year as well. Mr. Adair R. McConnell was good.

What brought this on? Well, I was over at Mig's place, and I ran across a poem he posted the other day; I'm not sure where he got it, but I tracked down the author's web site. It goes like this:

What Teachers Make, or
You can always go to law school if things don't work out
By Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?" He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about teachers: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, youčre a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

So here's to the teachers I know: to Batty, Platypus, Shelley, Scott, Skatemom, Dave, and Skarlet. I admire you. Without you folks and the profession you follow, the world would be a lousier place.

Posted by Linkmeister at June 18, 2003 11:00 PM

I think it's fantastic that you remember your high school teacher.
What a wonderful, special man!
You know French AND Russian...?
A guy of many talents, ay??

Posted by: toxiclabrat at June 19, 2003 02:44 AM

Wow! I am both humbled and honored by these words and their dedication. There is so much truth in these words and in the passion that the writer feels about what he does.

Every now and again I have the honor of watching someone's light turn on; to see the passion for what they are working toward come to life and watch them invest themselves in what will be their profession. It is something marvelous to behold and is one of the things that keeps me in the classroom.

I could make a lot more money in the private sector. But I'd miss the classroom and the office where bright young people come in and talk to me and actually value what I have to say. That's worth a lot.

Thanks, Linkmeister!

Posted by: ruminator at June 19, 2003 10:32 AM

This was fabulously well-timed since I've been questioning whether I should teach traditional college or go teach in a conflict zone (not allowed to talk about it now) or just throw in the towel on the whole teaching thing altogether. I'm taking this as a sign to rethink everything I was thinking. :-)

Posted by: skarlet at June 19, 2003 10:50 AM

Er, that makes it sound like you inspired me to go teach in a trench. No, no, no. It just made me rethink whether I should abandon teaching. *giggle*

Posted by: skarlet at June 19, 2003 10:51 AM

Um, skarlet, I've heard all the work front-line workers do in all manner of industries described as "in the trenches," so...;)

Posted by: Linkmeister at June 19, 2003 11:00 AM


Posted by: ali at June 21, 2003 09:26 AM

Linkmeister, I'm with you. I had some really excellent high school teachers including my 11th grade history teacher. We were studying the years after the civil war and we examined the different periods from different perspectives. So for the progressive era, we looked at how the historians talked about it close to the time, in the 1920s, in the late '30s and in the '50s. It really opened my eyes to how history itself is not just facts, but perspective.

I really respect and honor good teachers.

Posted by: Mary at June 23, 2003 10:12 AM

That's it, I'm giving up everything to run away to San Diego and teach Russian!

...wait a minute - I don't know Russian.
Well, I'm still moving to San Diego.

Heh. Thanks Linky.

Posted by: batty at June 25, 2003 03:13 PM