Recently I was stopped in the hallway by the faculty copy machine, and asked to think about why I teach and what it means to me. I was rushing to make copies of a poem I’d decided to teach that day, last minute. I just had to read THAT poem to my seventh grade students after a discussion we’d had the day before. I used to think that last minute ideas for lessons were the mark of a novice, unseasoned teacher, but now I realize that often my most lucid and engaging lessons come at the most unexpected times.
After eleven years of teaching, I have come to realize that bringing my best every day means being open to what can and will present itself – including my spontaneous lessons and ‘revelations’. I have always known why I teach. I know how teaching feels, but I’ve never verbalized that knowing.
I believe that all people, young, middle-aged, or ‘well-seasoned’, may possibly desire the same things; to understand their position and purpose in the world, and to be seen, heard, and understood on some level. The moment I started teaching (to college students, at first), I felt that I was in an amazing space of possibility. I felt the energy and verve of young people attempting to realize their own goals and dreams. What was most visceral and illuminating, however, was feeling that we were realizing our existing, possible, and emerging ‘selves’…together!
Teaching, for me, continues to provide a space and place of possibility. Every day I realize the immense possibilities and responsibilities that are inherent in the realities of any given school day. Whether I am singing a song about the role of prepositions and prepositional phrases, or throwing out a freestyle rap that utilizes literary devices, asking difficult questions during discussion in order to mine for personal and literary connections, or lavishing praise and congratulations on my students for their fabulous engagement, creativity, and insight; I am provided the freedom to discover and learn alongside my students.
Every day I endeavor to create a learning space that places value on learning and ‘becoming’ together. If I ask my students to read, write, or think critically about something, I ask myself to do the same. I write along with them, I imagine along with them, I create new narratives and new critiques along with them, I share emotions with them, and I laugh A LOT with them. Every day I realize that knowledge and the ability to learn is always with us. Learning is life-long. Teaching inspires and expects me to understand that new, illuminating ideas and lesson plans are always accessible, especially if I am willing to critique how learning occurs and what it looks and feels like. In doing so, my assumptions around what knowledge and learning is (or isn’t), are revealed, and I can embrace, discard, or construct them anew.
Being a teacher-learner is similar to being a parent-teacher. Every day is new, every day matters, and regardless of successes or failures in the past; I know they are not a given in the present, or the future. Teaching provides a space where I can connect my professional and parenting roles with my motivation to guide young people toward understanding and embracing their immense talents and possibilities. My own children, Zoe and Shane have had the opportunity (depending on their mood each day), to grow and learn alongside me, as they attended the school where I teach. Although teaching and parenting are very different roles, and have very unique responsibilities and spans of time, the opportunity to be in the same school with my own children, and witness each other’s experiences in the same ‘space’, has strengthened our sense of familial, academic, and personal growth.
Teaching is my GPS. It reminds me to always take a look around, see where I am and where I’m going, at all times. But most of all, teaching allows me the freedom to do what I love the most; to explore the every day moment; to connect with and embrace each of my students, as if they are my own, to guide them toward their own discoveries and ‘selves’, and to experience and celebrate their youthful, positive, vulnerable presence…even if only for a fleeting moment.