Monday, April 6, 2009

Why I Do This Crazy Job

Two teachers changed me for the rest of my life, and both of them made me want to teach for very different reasons.

When I was in the second grade, I had a very sweet teacher, Miss T. She was as wide as she was tall, and she had these very big eyes that popped out at you. I liked her. I really did.

I was bright and inquisitive, talkative and a little bossy. :) I did everything that was asked of me and to the very best of my ability. We had these little progress charts on the wall that we got to put stars on. I was always in the lead. I was sure that she like me as much as I liked her and her class.

One day, we were going over spelling words that she had written on the chalk board. One of them was the word 'aunt.' She asked me to pronounce it. Now, you have to know that my mom and dad had lived in Iowa until I was five. Then we moved home to Sarles, ND, so my dad could take over his family farm. To me, that word was pronounced 'ant.' So, when Miss T. asked me to pronounce the spelling word, I said 'ant'.

I am not going to go through all of the ways Miss T. could have appropriately handled my mispronunciation, but I will tell you what she did.

She said, "What did you say?" I repeated, "ant." She said, "Danielle, please pronounce that word correctly." I said, "ant," with this funny queasy sickening feeling in my stomach because I knew I was doing something wrong, but was not sure what it was. Finally, after staring at me for what seemed like an eternity, she said in a very stern voice, "That word is pronounced aunt. Your mother's sister is not a small, creepy little bug!" I did not answer. But to this day I remember thinking in my head that I would never make a student feel like I felt right at that moment. I was embarrassed and sick. I was a very strong student and suddenly questioned my intelligence. What happens when those situations happen to students who are not confident at all in the first place?

Fast forward to my junior year in high school.
I had the best English teacher, Mrs. Pederson. She was good to us. She would talk to us about life and literature. We knew when to turn on the work and when we could just 'visit' a little. She created individualized projects for students of different learning levels and spent countless hours after school working with those who were having trouble.

The one thing she did for me was talk to me about the social troubles I was having. I had a boyfriend that my mom and dad hated. He was no good for me, but I was stubborn and did not want to hear it. I saw good in him that really was there even though he was often doing stupid things that hurt me. She would let me come to her room during her prep hour and just talk through what I needed to process about this situation. She did not 'tell' me what I should do.

She would ask questions that would make me explore my own morals. She was not my friend. She was my mentor. I did not really need her to spend countless hours teaching me English. I learned that with lightening speed. What I did need, was someone to care about what was happening to me as a person. She did that.

One year later, that boyfriend died in a drunk-driving car accident. He was the one drunk. I was crushed. I did not want the support or sympathy of my parents because they had never liked him in the first place. In fact, at the time, I did not want anyone near me. But at the burial, as the casket descended into the freshly dug hole, I broke down into sobs that racked my entire body. Suddenly I was wrapped by a very loving and supportive hug. It was Mrs. Pederson. She was there, and I wanted her there. She understood.

In both cases, that of Miss T. and of Mrs. Pederson, what they did right or wrong was not something that a text book on teaching can give you. What they did was see or fail to see me as a person, not just a student. I see my students as people every day. Education is very important to me, and I take my job very seriously. I also take the lives of my students very seriously. I never humiliate them. If I do something that accidentally hurts them, I apologize. I teach them what they need to learn no matter how long it takes. And I am there to care about their lives if they need me.

No comments:

Post a Comment