I spend a good part of each semester feeling very frustrated as a teacher. With each semester, I like to believe I let that frustration rattle my cage less and less, but still, I end up feeling like a failure, like a teacher who doesn’t care, who has somehow failed at motivating her students, and obviously, that’s 100% my fault and none of the blame belongs to my students. It is at this point that I usually fear I will turn in to Cameron Diaz from Bad Teacher, showing them movies, drinking surreptitiously from my desk drawer, and sleeping during class. I fear this partly because that’s definitely what we would call a “bad teacher,” and partly because, dammit, it’s easier to show them a movie than to continue to turn cartwheels, stand on my head, and throw in a few jazz hands only to be met with empty stares or the tops of their heads as they busily text, ignoring me. I’m just saying.
I realize it’s ridiculous. It’s also real. Humor me.
We are entering into the final week of the spring semester, and I’m stoked. I’ve got summer employment lined up, and I cling to the hope that maybe this summer, I’ll actually be able to write my own stuff on top of working hard for the money. I’m going to work on my tan, read some books, and cook some really yummy stuff.
And as the semester draws to a close, as my students meet with me to discuss their papers, as they deliver presentations, I look back on the semester, I see how far they’ve come, and I decide to cut myself a little break. Did I fix all the problems? No. Not even close. But I did help them a little. I can see it in their writing, in the kinds of questions they ask, in the way they open up and talk to me like I’m an actual person.
Today, as my early morning ENG 110 students gave their “This I Believe” presentations, I had the most heart-warming teacher moment. For the assignment, the students must read a “This I Believe” essay out loud to the class and explain what they like about it and what they learned from it and why they chose it.
Two students broke out of their reading of the essays to lean over, point to a word on the page, and ask me, “How do you say this word?” I told them, they straightened up, and clearly, confidently, they finished reading the essays.
The words are simple to me: begrudgingly. Idyllic. But they are foreign to my students. Some might say that’s bad. They might roll their eyes and say that’s what’s wrong with kids these days, too busy texting and Tweeting to bother learning the English language. Damn kids and their rock music! But I relished those moments. My students believe, or seem to, that I will know how to say the words they don’t know. They have faith in me, as their teacher, that I will hold the answers to their questions. And so when I whispered to them the correct pronunciation, I wasn’t annoyed or saddened; I was overjoyed. I was comforted. I was validated.
I’ve been around the block enough times to know that I’ll have frustrating moments. I’ll have the periods in the semester when I just want to yell at my students and force them to act right, to take themselves seriously. Hell, to take me seriously. This semester, those moments have been more frequent. But there are good moments, too, and the same way that my students have faith in me and my ability to pronounce words, I have faith that those good moments in teaching will come. I just have to be open to them, waiting, ready to recognize them.