The Teacher I Want to Be: A Slice of Life

I sometimes imagine that teaching is sort of like playing in a local band. You’re the opening act for some larger performance. As the opener, not everyone is going to like you. Most of the audience didn’t come to see you, and they simply have to tolerate you. They bought a ticket to the show, they’re with their friends, and they’re excited for the headliner, so they stick around. But there are always a few diehard fans who are ecstatic to hear you play. They know the words to every song. They come early and stay late. When everyone else is on their cell phones, the diehard fans are pumping their fists and sharing that moment with you.

I use this analogy not as a way to compare teachers to rock stars (shudder), but as a way to think about the unique connections that can form between teachers and students. What starts out as a fandom built on the superficial aspects of performance (I love his energy! or He’s awkward like me!) can, over time, develop into a meaningful relationship. This is more the exception than the rule.

The analogy speaks to my belief that students will connect with certain teachers for specific and often idiosyncratic reasons. Some teachers might collect more fans than others, but even the quirkiest among us can make a difference in another human being’s life.

Over time, relationships between teachers and students can grow beyond the hierarchical structures common (and somewhat necessary) to schooling. If a student I taught last year stops by after school to talk, I’m able to engage with them holistically. We can interact with each other outside the realm of immediate academic transactions. Discussions of academic progress can still play a role; they just don’t have to be the focus.

Last week I received a Facebook message from a former student asking if he could come visit me at school. Since his high school classes don’t start until later in the morning, I told him to stop by around at the start of my first planning period. The two of us had kept in sporadic contact ever since we first hit it off four years ago when he was a student in one of my 7th grade English classes.

As he left my room and I scurried off to my meeting, I was struck by how joyous it felt to see him and talk to him about his life. To watch a life grow and stretch and push outwards. He is finding his groove, and I am so proud of him.

Although this might reflect poorly on my character, I’ve always looked forward to the possibility of former students reaching out and reconnecting with me. I guess it’s a reminder of what I love about teaching: growth, relationships, knowledge, the dialectical possibilities of minds interacting with one another.

The rest of the day was a fairly typical middle school day. I left the building exhausted, overloaded with work, and saturated with the tiny victories and big defeats that sometimes seem to characterizes my life as a teacher.

After the school day ended, I found myself in a situation inverse to the one described in the beginning of this post. Now, as I’ve written about before, I enjoy emailing people whom I admire. I’ve been lucky, fortunate, and privileged that some of my correspondences have blossomed into mentorships, leadership opportunities, and professional growth.

I’m currently co-writing a piece with Julie Gorlewski, one of my academic idols. We had a productive Google Hangout session yesterday, speaking through video chat about teaching, the state of public education, and our article. Julie is in every way my superior. She has published widely, taught in a variety of settings, and knows infinitely more about education than I probably ever will. But she treats me as an equal. I left our 75-minute conversation feeling valued as a thinker, learner, writer, and person. She took my ideas seriously and validated how I perceive the world. This, to me, is some of the raw power of education. It reminded me of who I want to be as an educator. Of how I want to interact with everyone I come into contact with.

As I reflected on the day, I was struck by the richness of education. By its ability to forge powerful relationships through generations and influence the outcomes of multiple lives. Most of all I felt an almost cosmic connection to those around me. In my former student and my new co-author, I felt my place as an educator and a human being.

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17 comments

  1. fireflytrails

    Our connections stretch forward and backwards in time. You are making a difference in both directions! I love this line: “saturated with the tiny victories.” Revealing glimpse into your life, and this reflects your dedication to your profession.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kate Schwarz

    Love this! In college I went for a long run from my apartment on Capital Hill to my boyfriend’s place in Fremont (in Seattle). I ran past my high school English teacher. I should mention: I graduated from high school in Virginia! She and her husband were taking a walk in Fremont. I ran another block, then turned around and tapped her on the shoulder. “Ms Blake?” I asked. “Katie!” she said. I met her for a beer later that night–and we’ve been friends ever since. Good teachers are better than rock stars any day of the week.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jenorr73

    This makes me think of ripples on the water. We send them out all the time but we don’t get to see where they go. Seeing them farther in their journey is wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jon Shay

    I love these moments because they remind me that the impact we have on our students sometimes has to marinate for a while before either us fully understands. I myself had a student reach out via Facebook and wasn’t sure how to respond. On the motivation from your post, I’m reaching out to him later today (can’t access Facebook from work!).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Benjamin Doxtdator

    Relationships have been what’s kept me going. I had an old student email me a 12,000 words worth of short stories she has written. Someone on Twitter take the time to really talk to me when I felt isolated. People who have generously tweeted and commented on my work.
    What I value most about the network that I am building is that it isn’t founded on some sort of superficial positivity that I often see: with grit, nothing will get in your way (fwiw, students aren’t fans of this kind of thinking either)! Instead, I find a lot of people who are empathetic about our limitations as humans and critical when they need to be.

    this post helped me start my day right!

    Ben

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous

    Right?!!! Just yesterday, I had a student give me a shoutout on fbook (along with others) when he just got promoted to marine Sgt.. ❤️❤️

    I’ve taught long enough that I have even gotten wedding invites. There is one class in particular I still meet up with around the holidays.Are you close with any of your teachers? I love running into mine at meetings. I’m always so flattered they remember me…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Anderson

      That’s awesome! I’m not particularly close with my old teachers. That said, I do have fond memories of them. I’m hesitant to reach out to some of them because I feel like I’m still in that interstitial space between student and teacher. This feeling will probably never end, and I should just reach out to them.

      Like

  7. Arthur Chiaravalli (@hhschiaravalli)

    Peter,

    Been out of communicado lately, but it’s great to read some more of your writing today. I thought of Simone de Beauvoir’s discussion of that dialectic: “a reciprocal relation, sometimes in enmity, sometimes in amity, always in a state of tension.” I’ve been paying more attention to that aspect of *enmity* as a valid experience of intersubjectivity. I guess that would translate into not necessarily being the rockstar, not necessarily being liked, but also not being an oppressor. I have experiences of amity for sure, but enmity is not necessarily a bad thing in intersubjectivity. Sometimes, that’s the just foil against which we and our students have the opportunity to achieve independent self-consciousness. I have serious doubts that the rockstar/fan dialectic is an empowering one.

    Arthur

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Anderson

      Hey, Arthur! I’ve been pretty quiet for the last couple weeks, as well. I haven’t given much thought to a dialectic of intersubjectivity, but I’m glad you brought it up. My analogy is more about being the opening act (never the rock star), and how there’s always a connection to be made. I originally tried to develop the analogy more to talk about issues of subjectivity, but found the metaphor unable to sustain any sort of critical analysis (which you mention at the end of your comment). Thanks for the comment, and I hope to read your next post soon!

      Like

      • Henrietta

        On the other hand, it might be that Putin had this message in mind: when a reporter tells a lie, he gets fired. Rather was fired under the pressure of public opinion; Kiselev or Parfenov, under pressure from the Kremlin, albeit disguised as a legitimate private affair. Thus, according to Putin, there is always a mechanism — government or no government — that makes sure a(n opitisopon) reporter who resorts to unethical means gets the boot.

        Like

      • pimped minivan

        Hi my friend sounds like the chateau was fun, I love old places like that. Maybe one day I will be able to go back and see it. At times like this I wish I had a car to be able to go and see places, since I love doing that.

        Like

    • Blue

      Tournier : excellentes formulations ! le code ouvert et les logiciels libérés ! ça coupe l&qehuo;rsrbe sous le pied aux querelles sémantiques et c’est empreint de réalisme !

      Like

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