Tuesday, November 24, 2009

For all the teachers, band directors and coaches out there

Being a teacher/coach/mentor is hard these days. I don't know about you, but sometimes when things are not going as I hoped, I wonder why the heck I do what I do. I'm getting too old to mash my hands with a saber blade!

But then things like this happen. Today I received a message on Facebook from a former student when I taught special education full time at Sheridan High School. I remember this student well. He was not easy or even pleasant to have in class, refusing to participate and gladly turned in blank exams and homework assignments. He'd disrupt my class every few minutes with James Bond trivia. I tried to hook him into learning by having him write Bond scripts for me pertaining to health. I think it was the writerly connection that kept me from totally losing it with him.

Yesterday I got a message.

Here's a piece from the letter:

As for school, I kind of regret not focusing in your classes in 9th grade especially health class. Perhaps I found it difficult to do or just wasn't used to asking for help and that's why I ended up quiting. But I learned over these years that if you didn't keep going or if you didn't ask for help and just quit, you miss out on a lot of opportunities especially in life. I have now vowed and dedicated myself to be more open and willing to work even if it is a challenge. My philosophy I think is "Don't think about how difficult it is, just get it done" and after you get it done, you feel like you have made a huge difference instead of doing nothing and sitting there thinking that it is no big deal whether you get it done or not.

Anyway, I'll talk to you later.
This student was a freshman in my health class at least six years ago. SIX YEARS.

I consider my years of full-time teaching my "dark years". The four years of my life I proved to myself that I am a total and utter failure in the classroom. After I left teaching, I sunk into a depression believing I failed. I believed I wasted years and years of my life pursuing a teaching career that was no longer.

Two and a half years ago I had this experience w/ a former student and band kid: Redeeming the Past. This still grips me. It was dramatic and profound. Take a moment to read it.

A short note from a former guard kid who ditched most of my rehearsals and appeared to hate my guts says this as she graduated over a year ago:
To the love of my guard life, I might have been a pain in your butt, but I'm glad I did guard this year and got to personally know you. Your [sic] wounderful [sic] and most of all you can put up w/ me!

What this last note revealed is that sometimes kids test us to see if we will put up with them over time. So many find adults get exasperated and walk out of their lives. Guard instructors get mad and quit. Adults walking out of their lives creates a void. A void that fills with pain. So, in the interest of self-protection they test the new adult, or in some cases they are new to the adult who's been there a while.

Kids who complained I pushed them too hard in guard come back and thank me for teaching them how to be pushed and push themselves.

Again, I'm talking years later.

That's what's so hard about teaching. It can take years IF you get to see some of the fruits of your labors.

I'm not posting this to toot my own horn, I'll leave that to the brass section. Rather I want to remind teachers and coaches why we do what we do. No matter how our season or semester progresses, we are impacting lives.

All the kids want from us is to show up and love them when they are feeling most unlovable. We may not feel like we're giving or achieving our educational/competitive goals, but in their eyes, we're sick.


DJ said...

Wow, just found your blog by clicking on "Next Blog" a couple of times.:-)
I just crawled into Christmas Break after surviving a stressful four months of my 25th year.
Thanks for the timely post.

DJ said...

Just read more former posts; how is Caleb?

Anonymous said...

Bradlietta just asked if you were still doing your blog so I decided to check. Your comments remind me of what I do and encourage others to do on a daily basis. It's all about whether you care, keep coming back, and treat youth as real people even when they blast you with all their stored up hurts. It can burn you out if you're looking for the rewards and thank you's, but they always pop up at unexpected moments. Ron

Anonymous said...


D. Gudger said...

Caleb is doing well. His fur is growing back and there's no evidence of the fly strike.

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