Dan starts teaching again tomorrow, 4th and 7th grade English, and is knee-deep in exercise books (example: “The donkey has [drunk/drank] all the water.”), so he asked me to guest-blog. So here I am. Dan is obviously excited to get back to teaching. He went to the shelter today to visit the boys, and afterwards talked about how much better he felt after seeing and laughing with them.
Which of course made me think about teaching. How can Dan love teaching? Your success is vicarious, measured in the achievement of others. Your gratification is delayed, sometimes 20 years or more. You are not well compensated, not particularly exalted by society, and are frequently at the mercy of parents, administrators, or, in the extremes of age, the students themselves.
For me, teaching has never been a job I sought or relished, but more of an obligation, and given my subject matter, I felt obliged to do it as well as I could. I’d look over at my medical students, floundering through some UpToDate passage (just scroll down to the summary, sheesh!) and feel bad. It would be so much more “high-yield” for me to just review ventilator basics than for them to slog through all that literature. But that means putting my own reading off until 2am, or maybe 3, after they’ve gone off to their call rooms. Sigh! I’d do some teaching, crack some jokes, and send them to bed.
Of course, sometimes I did have actual fun. I enjoyed the challenge of taking something complicated and trying to make it simple—making connections, slinging new threads in the brain’s electric cobweb. But still, I couldn’t see what Dan got so excited about. Waking up early to stand in front of a room of pre-teens, no thanks.
Thankfully Dan, and teachers like him, aren’t like me. For whatever reason, they love it! Dan can ham it up with 12-year-olds all day. He can carry on for hours about whatever his principal tells him to: ancient Chinese history, native peoples of Washington State, British grammar (my personal favorite). Maybe one day, he’ll teach a class on “Effect of the Bill Simmons Era on the NBA Market Share Among Televised Professional Athletics in the US,” or “Markers of Athleticism in Professional Basketball—By Decade,” or “Comparison of the Gulotta/Peisch/Romano-Meade (GPR-M) Analysis of the Cultural Relativity of Larry Bird,” or, when he’s getting old and cantankerous, “Worst Picks of the NBA Draft,” and then he will have reached nirvana, and only an anchor position on SportsCenter would draw him out of his meticulous and all-consuming lesson-planning.
What was I saying?
So, in sum, it is with more than a little surprise that I find myself in a teaching job. This is Dan’s territory. Why waste my time on other’s learning when I have so much to learn myself, and am continually running out of time to learn it in? Why read for others when I need to read so much myself? Good teaching takes so much time, patience, and genuine love for other people. There’s the standard answer, that you never know something so well as when you teach it. But then I remembered: I’m basically a socialist! And who is more fundamentally focused on the greater good, the health of the collective than teachers? They understand, perhaps intuitively, that the individual empowerment conferred by good teaching is an investment in everyone’s future. Besides that, it really is gratifying to teach someone something. Just one thing!
And Dan does that every day!