Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Missing Class

Hard to believe, but as of March 31st of this year, it will be six years since I last taught a class. It was the last day before spring break of 2000, and like most pre-spring break days, it was a relatively casual day. The yearbook class had already made its deadlines and was working on planning the 2001 book; the World Lit classes were finishing a paper; the Brit Lit class worked on vocabulary. I know that we were doing other things that day, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was; I had no idea it would be so important to me, really.

Heart attack, surgery, retirement... long story, boring details. Thing is, I still miss teaching... but I don't think I miss being in the classroom any longer. I see a former student teacher of mine--now a teacher at a nearby high school--on a semi-regular basis, and he doesn't seem to enjoy what he's doing. Too much paperwork, too many useless tests, too little time to actually teach. It grates on him--and I know it would grate on me even more. I always had a low tolerance for foolish bureaucracy, and I think the emphasis on form over function in contemporary education would push me beyond curmudgeonly into full malcontent mode.

But there are times when I run across a reference to a work I used to teach, or find an excerpt from an author or a work I enjoyed, or see a student who really came into his or her own in the classroom... There are times when I wish I could return to the classroom again to teach. Not to handle discipline, not to do restroom duty or hall monitor work or paperwork that by all rights should be done by guidance counselors, but to actually teach. There's nothing like the feeling you get when you manage to break down something complex, reducing it to mentally digestible nuggets that actually feed a student's mind. I did it for more than a quarter of a century, and I remember those times when everything clicked.

Almost six years, and I still have dreams about the classroom. Good dreams.

I wish that common sense would return to education, and the state would actually respect the teacher's ability to teach, rather than forcing them to administer tests that are irrelevant and useless. I'd like to see more teachers enjoying the classroom experience as much as I did. But the current system saps that enjoyment, crushing enthusiasm and chasing away too many people who might turn into good teachers if the system worked with them rather than working against them.

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