Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Teacher, Teacher, Burning Bright ...

I never met anyone who entered the profession of teaching to get rich. (Such people, if there are any, are as daft as the Mad Hatter.) I did have colleagues who, to one extent or another, were teaching principally (even only) for the income. For most of those folks, it was a second income in the family--a supplement for the larger income earned by the spouse. But in the wonderful schools where I taught (1966-2011)--Harmon Middle School and Western Reserve Academy--these were rare presences, the sort who stand on the shore and watch the colorful boats floating by, the boats full of eager teachers and happy students on voyages of discovery. Some just think it's more fun to stay dry and grouse about all the glories before them.

A story: In the middle of my career, a former colleague who had left teaching to graze in greener pastures (they turned out to be not so green after all) contacted me about the possibility of returning to Aurora to teach. He had many talents, this young man--much to offer. But I also knew his heart was not in it. He wanted something else. And I knew he would leave the moment he had the opportunity. I was the chair of the Language Arts Department at the time--the department in which he sought employment. And so I asked him: Do you really want to teach? Or are you just looking for a job? He mumbled and muttered and stammered and stumbled--and by doing so, revealed the truth. I did not recommend him for an interview. My profession, by then, was far too dear to me.

And yet ... I began teaching in 1966 because I needed a job, and teaching was really the only thing I'd bothered to get myself qualified for. (Grad school plans had fallen through when I received no scholarship aid, though I was admitted to the American Studies program at the University of Kansas and had very much wanted to go there.) I'd had fun student teaching at West Geauga High School (11th grade English), but I was not at all counting on becoming a career teacher--and certainly not at the middle school level. I may have mentioned this before, but my critic teacher at West Geauga told me at the end of my weeks there, Whatever you do, don't get stuck teaching in a junior high school. Oh, no way I'd do that! Only an idiot would, you know ...  No, I was not going to be a teacher. I was going to be a ... professor, writer, scholar, if not the catcher for the Tribe.

And then, of course, I taught in a middle school for nearly thirty years. And loved it, from the very beginning, even though, my first few years, I was terrified, every day--terrified I couldn't control the kids, terrified they wouldn't like and/or respect me, terrified I didn't know enough to be doing the job, terrified that my more experienced colleagues and administrators would think I was a failure, terrified that I couldn't keep up with all the work I had to do, terrified ... ad infinitum.

In my later years, this terror morphed into a perpetual nervousness. I felt it before every new year, every new class, every new class period every day of the year, right to May 2011, when it finally ended. Over the years I had grown much more competent, much more confident, but that little voice from 1966 continued to whisper in my ear, day after day for more than forty years: Are you really ready for this? Do you really know what you're talking about? Do you think these kids are even with you? Don't you know you're a fake?

My salary for most of my career was pathetic. I started at $5100 a year and did not "crack" $10,000 for a number of years. Then--with my additional education (salaries are higher for master's degrees and doctorates) and with my additional experience (each year of employment earns an increment)--my salary rose into--but never above--the "livable" category. (All of this, by the way, I owe to the teachers' union, but that's another story for another post.)

So ... I loved my job (even though it scared me). Loved it profoundly. But I worry about those entering the profession these days--and I will post about that the next time. And I'll also post about the recent tenure decision in California ...

To be continued ...

BTW ... I have an unpublished, massive novel that uses the title of this post ... one of these days I'm going to edit and serialize and publish ...

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