Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why do I do this (part 2)?

Perhaps it's the onset of spring. Perhaps it's the growth of the students. Perhaps it's my growing comfort with these 17- and 18-year-olds. Whatever it is, I'm re-discovering what it is about this profession, teaching, that keeps me motivated.

There is an adrenaline rush that comes with success. I guess that's true of any field. I've been with all of my students now for about 8 weeks. I'm at a point where I feel like I know quite well what buttons to push and what levers to pull. One of my groups works quite well independently and in pairs, asks great questions when we're together as a group. My others only work well when I'm sage on the stage. Regardless, I've figure out the approach that's likely to work with the groups. And I know I'm there when I can gently but with precision make fun of the rutches that inevitably exist in every class. In other words, it's become easy to show that I like them and I like teaching them.

If I'm feeling this way, it's because I've solved a new set of puzzles, namely the puzzle of motivating a group of intelligent but often distracted youthful seniors. They outnumber me approximately 30 to 1, yet I can figure out a way to lay out a path they'll follow to get where I want them to go. It's a rush to know you've "solved" a new puzzle. Fortunately for me, I get to do this several times each year.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why do I do this?

I look for little affirmations for my career choice. Heck, I need to have something during this pessimistic winter, a winter in which pay has been stagnant. A winter in which my profession has become a political target (not without some blame on our part). A winter in which I've seen a very talented young colleague leave the profession (and do so quite logically). And let us not forget, a winter in which I've been teaching the dismal science (Economics has earned that name fair and square).

The most recent affirmation came in a surprising way. My wife went on a scrapbooking retreat Friday into Saturday. The two of us never talked until about 5 pm on Saturday, and that was about the logistics of when she was coming home and what that entailed for dinner. Many of her friends were on the phone often with their spouses, remedying some problem at home with the kids. Her best friend left a bit early because she feared what she would find after her husband and two boys were home alone for 36 hours. But Sherry, she never worried a bit.

Though the relationship is profoundly different, the mode into which I enter as a dad isn't that different from the mode I achieve as a teacher. In both settings there is a great responsibility of moral leadership. As a teacher, you find yourself constantly as the one with wisdom and maturity entrusted with the care of others. Most days (thank God) aren't matters of life or death vigilance. But my days in school are days of vigilance regarding the safety, disposition, and character of those with whom I am entrusted. It builds a competence and a sense of principle when around others and translates nicely to my life as a dad.

It's why Sherry never felt the impulse to call and make sure things were okay around the household. She knew they were fine, though not as clean and not with as much vegetables had she been here.

I have often thought of how my life as a father reinforces my profession as a teacher and vice versa. That my teaching experiences can inform my conduct as a father is one of the great gifts of this profession.

Monday, March 7, 2011

In the path of a storm

It's been a little tough to be a public school teacher as of late. I foresaw some sort of debate about the nature of our pensions occurring at some point in my career. I imagined that at some point in my 40s there would be some grand compromise where professionals my age would either be edged out of the field and / or have the terms by which our retirement income is funded changed. The timing of the tempest has surprised me, and humbled me.

I feel like much of the stereotypes about teachers cast about on the airwaves are simply untrue.

I feel as though much of the rationalizations as to why teachers have it so well, namely that we elect the officials with whom we bargain, are simply untrue, or at least untrue for my situation.

I feel as if two vast armies are arrayed fighting over us and our livelihood, the organized labor who see teachers as a last bastion for the working class pitted against the forces of conservatism who look at us as the critical foundation to their opponents' base of power. And those two armies fighting so loudly seem to be missing middle-ground concessions that might make sense.

What worries me most is the fear that we might be about to throw the baby out with the bathwater as a result of this debate. Will compensation be reduced so much that I will be in a position twelve years from now that I will have to steer my son and daughter away from this profession that I love.

It's an exaggeration to say that I feel beaten in this debate. But I do feel exposed. And I feel uncertain. I can imagine myself doing other jobs, but can't imagine myself as happy and satisfied doing other jobs. Yet in eight or twelve years I might have to look for something more remunerative but less rewarding.

I want to buy _____ but know I shouldn't.

a K-Cup coffee maker

a Macbook Pro

But . . . they look so neat!