Friday, April 13, 2012

The Secret of Teaching Revealed

Driving to school (and stopping carefully at all stop signs), the secret of good teaching came as a revelation. It was 7:45 Friday morning and I was wishing it was 5:00 Friday afternoon and wondering just how I would make it through the grinding gears of my full day’s schedule—6th grade, 8th grade, 8th grade, 5-year olds, 5-year olds, quick lunch, 100 kid singing time, 4th grade, 4th grade, carpool duty, visit Mom. Each class its solar system with its own particular combination of revolving planets and gravitational fields and pulls between them. Each class working on different pieces from different places on different combinations of instruments, all of which I had arranged in my spare time. Each class peopled by 12 to 15 mini-universes, every one with their own micro-climate, biorhythms, needy needs and—let’s not forget it—wondrous gifts. Every one of these hundred plus folks needing—and worthy of— attention and care. Which means keeping each in my heart, imagining them while writing the notes to the arrangements and planning the classes, attending to them during the class, reflecting on them after the class. Driving to school, I was grouchy with the guy in a recent social gathering who, tongue-in-cheek, said my work didn’t count as work because “I was having so much fun.” If only he knew.

So with all of this spinning in my brain, some inner guide kicked in to remind me that I was now ten minutes away from my next class and on survival alert, the imagination kicked into gear and began reviewing the day’s planned classes. Some nuances emerged and new ideas surfaced and suddenly the armored body preparing to simply get through the day softened and looked forward to it all. My first class began with some good-humored banter with my 6th graders and off they went to play “Canta canta pajarito, canta canta tu canciĆ³n, mira que la vida es triste y tu cantar me alegra el corazon.” The song claims that in this sad life, the bird’s happy song makes my heart glad. And sure enough, it did and does everytime I hear it. As did every song, dance, game and piece I did with all the different ages today. Maybe that fellow was right— it’s all just too much damned fun to qualify as work!

At least, until you try to do it. Bobby McFerrin, a former school parent, once told me how he took the 3rd grade to a recording studio for his son’s birthday to record a song and came out from the experience looking up sanatoriums in the phone book. He confessed to me, with an admiring tone, that it was—and I quote—“the hardest work he had ever done.”

It’s now 6 pm and I not only made it through, but enjoyed just about every moment of it. The weekend awaits with all its glory, well-deserved and hard-earned. Never mind the school auction fund-raiser tomorrow night, the piano lesson, the concert related to my field, the organizing the chaos of the week’s papers and preparing the next week’s classes. It will be nice—and necessary—to have some space and some relief from the constant chatter of the little darlings.

Oh, and I promised the secret revelation of teaching. Well, no big surprise that it all boils down to our most over-used and ambivalent word— love. Love for the kids, love for the subject, love for the whole nine yards of whatever your passion, hopefully wedded to your work, may be. No matter how exhausting the demand is, love is both the fire within and the constant guiding star. It all is endurable and often pleasurable and sometimes extraordinary when love is at the helm. And being the fickle thing that it is, we can’t depend on it to be as constant as we would like. When love fades, our work suffers and we suffer and if we’re teachers, our kids suffer. When it begins to glow again, ain’t nothing we can do to capture it and make it stay. Just be grateful for the grace.

Happy weekend.

1 comment:

  1. There's nothing in the world more annoying than non-teachers who belittle our job. I swear the next person who says "Awwwww...that's soooo cute" when I say I teach first grade, I WILL punch in the face

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