Those who can’t…?

There are many times I feel like I’m not a very effective teacher.  I don’t feel I’m particularly innovative – I tend to stick to what I’m comfortable with rather than try more “creative” approaches, particularly when I roll my eyes at these ideas that are suggested at conferences or staff days.  Many times I’ll think an idea’s too cheesy, too touchy-feely, maybe too “non-academic”, and I rationalize that my students would see right through me and not buy into something I’m not buying into.  And there’s probably some truth to that (still rationalizing), but also there’s the thought in the back of my mind that perhaps I’m short-changing my students by not venturing outside my comfort zone.

I’ve often wondered why students connect with me.  It hits me how little I know about my students outside of my classroom, and it makes me wonder how much I actually care about them.  I mean, I feel like I care about them, but then I find I’d be hard-pressed to find a student in my AP class I KNOW is involved in, say, band.  I don’t go to most extra-curricular activities – an occasional soccer or volleyball game, but never football, never dances, though I do enjoy being at the after-prom bash – so I’m a teacher in a room, to be honest.  But then there’s this: I don’t envy the teachers who do all those other things, but I sure as hell admire ’em for it.  It’s just not for me, is my attitude.  And sometimes I think that’s a terrible attitude for me to take.

So why do I teach?  I love reading and talking about literature.  I love writing (but find every reason under the sun not to write – making me wonder how much I really love writing).  Developing a passion for reading and writing among my students has been my stated goal ever since I decided to pursue it.  Everything else about high school, for me, is secondary. It’s trivial.  End of story.  And I have fun doing what I do, and I think most of the time my students are having fun, too.

But many days I wonder if what I do in my classroom is actually teaching.

I’m scared to death that what I’ve got going on here is more a “cult of personality” rather than teaching. I’m the eccentric English teacher who collects action figures and has the well-decorated  classroom. I’m the guy who bucked the system and wore a jacket with jeans on days other than Fridays. I’m the guy who tells them how much of a joke the TAKS test actually is, and that they shouldn’t worry about it. Yes, my students are having fun in here, and they’re doing well on the AP exams and their TAKS tests, but how much can really be attributed to me, and how much am I dependent upon my students’ teachers who came before me?

I don’t know that I want to know the answer to that one.

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4 Responses to “Those who can’t…?”

  1. bigredpoet Says:

    There’s a fine line between the teacher and the cult of personality–between the “we” and the “I,” Brother Jack would say. The trick is that the kids won’t learn from you if they don’t connect with you, value your opinion, etc. You’ve got to be somebody whose words carry weight with the students before you can affect them in any other way. Ethos first, right?

    Hell, I hope so.
    If not, we’re both screwed.

  2. Juggernaut Says:

    Well, this is healthy.

    Jesus, stop second-guessing yourself. Look at your results: what percentage of your kids go to college? Place out via AP? Come to you with questions, or just to bullshit?

    As for the last point, now think back to your high school time. How many teachers would you just talk to? Approach for advice? Really look forward to the class? I’ll tell you my total: zero (save for my Geography teacher I crushed on). And I bet yours is the same.

    Now take your “stats” and add them to the fact that you have students that like you, talk to you, and actually look forward to your class. Even in some instances years from actually doing so: you’ve had underclassmen introduce themselves to you based on what they HEARD about you.

    You’re a teacher. A damn good one. It’s your calling. The fact that you’re actually concerned about this should tell you all you need to know. So stop beating yourself up because you have a little pride and are not some cheesy, lame cheerleader.

    One last thing: teachers with a “cult of personality” are the ones that are remembered and recognized as good teachers. And that’s because the students get something out of them. Who wants to hang with a boring tool, much less take advice from one?

  3. A. Nonymous Says:

    You were the best English teacher either of my kids ever had. Yeah, they liked you as a person and were amused by your toys, but you also greatly improved their writing skills, their ability to analyze and discuss literature, and not least, your classroom was an oasis in a school that they both mostly hated. I was and am still grateful.

  4. Thank you for that, A. Nonymous…

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