“I’m worried I’m not asking the right questions,” I admitted to a colleague a few weeks ago. My school’s curriculum asks us to read aloud with our students and stop to question or guide them as we read. “Or, maybe I’m not asking them correctly?” I scrunched my face and tilted my head.
While it’s my fourth year in the classroom, it’s only my second year at my school. Our curriculum, which was designed and researched by teachers at my school (including my colleague) years ago, is wonderful but unusual to me. I don’t always know what to ask students, and I was worried that I go off on tangents that don’t properly teach them literary techniques.
Bill, who has been at the school for nearly thirty years and helped create the darn thing, is only understanding. “It’s really hard,” he says, “and there’s no right way.” Then he pauses and asks, “Why do you like the books?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you chose them for a reason. You should stop to point things out to students about why you like the book. The author can speak for themselves. We’re teaching our students how to love reading.”
It’s been a long week, and with all the field trips I’ve gone on or chaperoned, both my kids and I have noticed my absence.
This year, I’ve been very lucky to have a sense of freedom and ownership of my classroom that I lacked my first few years. Yes, this gives me a sense of professional worth and dignity that’s an important factor to teachers staying in the classroom.
Moreso than that, however, is that it reminds me how much love is at the root of all of this— students, why I teach, even the content. Bill, who I consider a mentor, often reminds me that “the canon should be the books we love to read.” Kids can tell when we love things, and that level of authenticity, of acknowledging that I’m not this automaton teacher who forces “knowledge” down their throats, is key.
Love is a huge part of our humanity, and we need to share that with our students if we’re asking for theirs. I hope they know I still learn every day, often from them (I do my best to show them that, too). I hope my students see me fangirl over a story we’re reading or something they write or say. I hope they know I want them to be a fan of something too.
In reading Jose Vilson’s reflection in “The Eleventh Honeymoon,” I was struck by his reminder to acknowledge the “totality” of what we do. It’s not facts or definitions. It’s a whole human experience.
I am very tired this week, but I would be lying if I said that, even in this state, even in my second-year-back and fourth-year-in mindset, I love what I do very much. I laugh quite a bit nearly every day. I am trusted and cared about and for by a group of small (and not-so-small!) humans who are much, much more brilliant than me. I wake up most days and know, with certainty, that I love my job.
Is there anything more blessed than that? Is that not grace, this fortuitous stumbling into the confident joy of knowing one’s vocation, in action?
So now, I am trying to trust myself. When I take the tangent to connect The Giver to the pathways of revolutions or To Kill a Mockingbird to #IStandWithAhmed, I feel good about that. When I also stop to nerd out about the metaphor in a sentence, I’m okay with that too. I want them to know I’m not just teaching them, but trying to share with them what I– as a student, reader, and human, just like them– experience with that book.
If anything, I hope my students see it as an olive branch, an offering to make this a space to be excited, be strange, and fall in love with something in a story they may not have thought to notice. I hope it lets them know that when they take that leap, I’ll be there cheering them on. If we do that, I think it’s a pretty good year.