I’ve read scores and scores of books on the art and science of teaching. Many of the big names, lots of small ones, folks who have had some genuinely brilliant stuff to say and others who struck me as flat out nincompoops. But I think that one of the most important things I have taken away from all my “studies” is something about which everyone in our profession needs to be frequently reminded.
We flub. We mess up. We make mistakes… on almost a daily basis.
Sure, there are days when their is magic at the whiteboard, as if our dry erase markers were an alchemist’s wand turning neurological water into cranial fine wine. But most days, balls are dropped. Opportunities come up but they are not seized. Something exceptional is planned and it falls flat on its face. I come off as salty when in fact I am in a great mood but merely pressed for time. Yes, I always want to be attuned to the individual needs of all my kids –especially the ones that merely need a friendly, encouraging voice that day — but when I am in the midst of navigating 186 other kids over the course of 7 hours and the fire alarm has just been pulled for the fourth time in a row during third period by a buncha comedians in the halls, I sometimes miss the cues.
I aim to do great and then I find myself just barely hanging on. The last bell of the day rings and I realize that I did not get done nearly the amount of things I needed to do in order for tomorrow to function the way it ought to. Friday hits and I realize that I really need to work both Saturday and Sunday in order to make sure Monday is gonna work the way it needs to — and in the ways my kids deserve it to.
But I’ve got plans with the family, errands long left undone, a stack of paperwork from my own life to navigate (like the very pedestrian necessity of paying bills) and my pillow is taunting me with the idea of actually getting more than 5 1/2 hours of sleep every night.
And do I manage it all in some sort of suave, filled-with-European panache fashion? Hell no. I stumble forward, bang my foot into the dresser and screw up.
I bumble and stumble forward. And this is after 10 years at Lynwood High and even longer than that in the profession.
Yet, the difference now is that I understand this about teaching. I get that this is the nature of our career beast. Early in my career I used to get down on myself, really beat the crap out of myself. Think to myself, “Ya know, you really stink at this — and you are working at almost maximum life capacity to be this bad. It’s hard, I am no good, and the kids deserve better. Shouldn’t you pack up and go find a cubicle somewhere that offers bathroom breaks any time you need to pee?”
However, with experience, that negative-loop tape recording no longer plays in my head. Why? Because I’ve come to realize no one ever masters the art of teaching. No one is immune to falling short, fouling up, getting caught in a situation for which you were completely unprepared and acting in ways that, “Oh, if I could only turn back the clock 45 minutes and get a do-over, the world would be so much better.”
It just doesn’t happen.
And so here I am, so frequently with my tail between my legs. But if I set my intention to do as well as I can do, continue to try and improve my craft, make sure that I learn from my mistakes and remain optimistic about the future, I think I am gonna be alright.
And if I can remain alright, I do believe I have something of great value to offer my kids. Even if sometimes I am going to trip and fall and bang my head on a desk in front of a room full of teenagers who are gonna make no bones about laughing at me and telling all their friends at lunch what a dork Mr. Alan is.
Cause at the end of the day, this is a job that can only be highlighted in a “And warts and all” type of fashion. There is just no way to ever avoid the, as Homer Simpson would say, “D’Oh!” of being a teacher.