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This Is Where it Gets Good December 11, 2010

Posted by monty in education.
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I tell all my methods students that teaching isn’t about instant gratification. I tell them that if they want a job where they’re immediately going to see the effects of their work, teaching isn’t it.  You plan, you instruct, you cajole, you cheerlead, you give endless feedback and encouragement, and you do it all with the blind faith that what you’re doing is going to pay off in the end.  If you need to see immediate dividends, find something that involves applause.

I tell them that what passes for instant gratification are the little victories: seeing students get interested in a book, noticing progress in their writing, listening for moments of insight during class discussion.  You become highly attuned to those triumphs, and you modulate your definition of what constitutes success.  You know you won’t often be thanked for what you do, but in some ways that’s okay, because teachers – the real ones who’ve gotten into the profession for the right reasons – know it’s a calling, and that they do this because they couldn’t picture themselves doing anything else.

But the funny thing is, sometimes gratification does happen.  Often it’s delayed, but that doesn’t make it any less sweet.  Case in point: the photo above.  This was taken a few weeks ago at the annual National Council of Teachers of English conference in Orlando.  While there I presented a session with three of my former student teachers (pictured above), who are all teaching in their own classrooms now.  It was great to reconnect with them, but it was also inspiring to see that they’ve turned into the kind of teachers I knew they would – teachers who are intelligent, compassionate, and thoughtful, and who are truly making a difference in the lives of their students.  And to hear all of them say they benefited from the class in which I taught them was just icing on the cake.

And in extremely rare instances, there is instant gratification.  My semester ended last week, and I input final grades yesterday afternoon.  Last evening, I received this email from one of my students:

I just wanted to thank you for being such an inspiring professor. You went beyond just teaching us the material. I feel like you did everything you could to help us become good teachers. You made yourself available for us, and I could tell that you were really sincere in wanting to help us. You offered honest advice, like telling us how to make up stories if a smelly kid stands in front of the air conditioner. 🙂 Seriously, your stories about your experiences with teaching, and your advice about teaching in general, gave me a well-rounded perspective about what teaching is like.

I actually didn’t want to be a teacher anymore going into this class at the beginning of the semester, and now I’ve regained my desire to teach. You definitely played a role in my change of heart towards teaching, along with the experience that I had in the Internship.

I just wanted to let you know that you impacted my life in a good way, and I really appreciate it. You also modeled the type of teacher that I want to be. I’ve had great teachers before, but I’ve never had one that’s made me think ‘I hope I can be as good of a teacher as they are one day’. I know that sounds kind of mushy, but it’s true. You are personable, but not overly friendly. You are knowledgeable, but not preachy. You are experienced, but you acknowledge that your experiences aren’t the only relevant ones. Overall you exemplify the balance that teachers should have.

I could go on but this is getting a little lengthy so I’ll bring it to a close. Pretty much: thanks for being an amazing professor. Your efforts did not go unnoticed.

I shouldn’t have to point out why this is such an extraordinary message to receive.  As teachers, it’s always nice to receive validation that what we do seems to be working, but beyond that, you can’t underestimate the rejuvenating power of a little gratitude.  The next time I grow whiny and neurotic and self-defeating on here about my choice of profession, someone remind me of this post, and the photo and message that accompany it.  This is why I do what I do, and, as always, the students make it all worthwhile.

*****

Current listening:

Beulah – The Coast Is Never Clear (2001)

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Comments»

1. Katie Reed - December 11, 2010

I was the smelly kid, wasn’t I? 😦

2. Christopher Dean - December 11, 2010

Rob:

This is a really lovely piece, and I’m glad that you’re out there doing “God’s work” with future teachers.

It reminded me of something one of my student teacher’s told me once. She said, when it came to matters pedagogical, I was one of the “good voices speaking in her head.” I guess, as a teacher of teachers, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

I think the point about delayed gratification is spot on. The whole of the teaching profession opperates, at some deep level, on delayed gratification and service to others. You did a great job nailing that distinction.

–Chris Dean


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