April 17, 2006

In the blood?

Is teaching in the blood? I don’t think so. I believe teachers are made, not born, and the bloodline is inconsequential. Neither my parents nor my grandparents were teachers. However, I recently learned that my great-great-grandfather taught elementary school for over 50 years. Significant? Probably not. But there are those teachers out there that just seem to be born to teach. They’re naturals. Great instruction and creative engaging assignments just seem to flow through them with ease. Their students always behave well and never fail their courses. These teachers are gifted individuals answering a “higher calling” when they walk into their classrooms and turn on the lights. Actually these people were not born this way. Instead these “master teachers” have worked very hard to achieve this level of proficiency in their craft. So there is hope for the rest of us: the imperfect teachers who, much like in our childhood scholastic careers, have to work, scrape, and sweat for every small success in the classroom. Thankfully, there are a few characteristics of master teachers that can be learned, applied, and refined by all teachers.

The attitude we bring to our classrooms is a huge part of our success. Nothing turns a kid (or anyone else) off faster than being forced to work with an individual who has a sour attitude. Our attitudes are one of the few things that we can control, especially when our classrooms are tumbling out of control. I don’t always look on the bright side of life. I try, but most of the time I fail. My faith plays a huge role in my life and I’m thankful that I have it to rely on. One of my closest colleagues is atheist; I honestly don’t know how he makes it through his day, or what keeps him going when the going gets tough. Our students store was recently broken into by two brothers, the older being responsible for watching the younger. After they broke the window, the younger boy (6) was “placed” through the broken window by his older brother (10) so that the two could then get access to the candy inside. Who was watching out for these kids? No one at the time of the robbery (other than the surveillance cameras). Teachers watch out for kids, but we can only do so much. It takes a village to raise a child and the teacher is second in command after the parents.

You don’t have to be a parent to be an effective teacher, but being a parent has certainly made me a more patient teacher. I have a son who is bipolar. Nothing, and I mean nothing, that I have ever been confronted with at school with my students has ever even approached the challenges I face daily with my son. I use the patience that I have learned parenting my own children with the pupils I teach in my classroom. Almost nothing fazes me anymore. Almost nothing. However, I find it increasingly difficult to tolerate students who don’t seem to listen, ignore the directions, and then ask me questions about the classroom assignments that I have just explained. Patience is a key factor to success in the classroom and a major byproduct of parenting.

It’s hard work to make time to create and prepare appropriate lessons that engage students. I teach a six-period day. In other words, I don’t have a conference or prep period. I have to spend time before and after school preparing lessons and grading work. I spend a significant period of time each summer revising my lab manual. For my subject matter, multimedia, I have found that collecting and writing original assignments and assessments is more effective then trying to stick to someone else’s out-dated textbook. It’s more work then most people are willing to do. Call me crazy, but it works best for me. But not all teachers want to work hard. I would suggest that anyone looking to become a teacher because of the shorter work schedule and summers off find another profession. Many schools in California have already gone year-round anyway. Even my campus is going “modified traditional,” (whatever that means), in 2007-2008.

So if teachers are made, what are they made of? Our biology includes attitude, patience, a willingness to work hard, and a philanthropic spirit. Philanthropy is part of teaching? It has to be. No one teaches to improve him or herself, although that is another nice byproduct. I believe that we are all born basically selfish if for no other reason then to guarantee our own survival. Most teachers have grown beyond the self-centered view and come to not only understand that this is not a successful way to maintain or grow our world, but also that if we are all going to survive at all, we all need to be educated. Not just the elites, or the rich, but everyone needs an education to succeed. Almost like those individuals who take a vow of poverty, teachers give up a huge part of their own personal self-interest in order to serve our world. No one is born ready and willing to do that. It’s a decision each teacher comes to individually, privately, and sometimes almost as an epiphany of sorts.

It’s important for us to understand that we are part of something much, much bigger than ourselves. The education of our world’s children is a huge responsibility and a major contribution to our culture and society. The public education of our children is a greater good in which teachers are the leading players. Administrators support teachers and parents entrust their children to teachers but it is the regular, everyday classroom teacher who makes the educational difference in the child’s life. What we do matters. So how we do it is critically important. Are the teachers going to save the world? To the extent that the world can be saved, I believe they play a starring role. Not because they were made that way, but because they have made that choice.

Please post your comments below.


  1. Amen. Nicely stated. I wish the California public school system had more like you. Until it does, I'm going to be stuck pointing out the lunacy on the other side of the fence. Thanks for having the time, dedication and faith to make the effort. Your kids' parents may not tell you enough, but any time you get frustrated, pull out this "Thank you," polish it off and know it's still good and still meant with the same force it's meant today.

  2. Of course, teaching is in the blood--we get transfusions of joy and gentleness, tenacity and toughness every day from the kids that make us who and what we are!

    I'm glad teaching is in your blood--and mine.