I was almost a teacher. That’s why I respect teachers and think our society and culture don’t respect them enough.
I stopped short of getting a license twice, and I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms in recent years, but that doesn’t make me a teacher. Licenses don’t make teachers, anyway. Years of 60-hour weeks and coming back to do it again year after year is what makes people into teachers.
Teachers are people who have had to put up with more and more resistance and less and less support from their supervisors, their students and their parents over the years but keep coming back for more.
Why? They love what they do. They’re dedicated to the kids they keep for a few hours a day, and they have the patience of Job.
Teachers learn the tricks students play and they have a few of their own. High school teachers learn how to dominate a roomful of teenagers who are strong of both body and will. They can persuade these near-adults who already know everything to do things, often against those mighty wills, that help them learn what they need to know to become real adults.
A real teacher knows when to clamp down and when to loosen up. A real teacher knows how to pace progress to keep the brightest from becoming bored and the less-inclined from becoming discouraged.
A real teacher respects both school smarts and street smarts but knows that without school smarts, street smarts go only so far. A real teacher knows that some kids learn best with their eyes, some with their ears, and some with touch and motion, and can gear a lesson for all three.
A lucky few teachers are born with these abilities. Most have to earn them. Most are better at some than others. Some can handle it for only so long before they burn out. Many make a life of it out of love. A few make a life of it because they’re afraid to try anything else, even after the flame goes out, and many of these should be weeded out, for their own benefit as well as the good of their suffering students.
That latter group grows old on the job. Real teachers don’t age in important ways. They always work with the young and have to keep up with their energy and their ever-changing whims. In many ways, that keeps teachers young, too, even after they retire. A love of teaching is nurtured by a love of learning and learning, too, keeps one young in spirit.
While I have stood before some classrooms and gone through some motions, the qualities and abilities of real teachers remain for me a distant goal. While I’m likely to teach again, it will be a long time before I will call myself a teacher. In the meantime, I will respect real teachers as I respect doctors, attorneys and accountants, and urge everyone else I know to do the same.
Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org