“Sometimes I’ve regretted the time I’ve given to teaching, but not teaching itself.”
In a couple of days, I will finish my twenty-fourth year of teaching. Every year I wish I did something else; every year I think about what I will do differently in my classroom next year. It is one of the many paradoxes of my life that I love what I do for a living, while hating it simultaneously. I have come to embody the Malamud quote over the years. I love when I am talking to the students about the books they are reading, the ideas those texts spark in their heads, and the ideas they generate in their writing. The students are the best part of the job, and as I have said multiple times over the last decade: the students are smarter than we let them be.
None of what I think is the most important part of my job matters: encouraging students to be, allowing them to be, and expecting them to be thinking human beings; none of these qualities seem to be valued in the education system. All value has been placed upon what can be measured in a very short-term reductive assessment system through which the students, and ever increasingly teachers, are summed up by the elegance of the single number. Your reading is 2100 so you pass; 2400 commended! Great job. What do you have to say? What do you think? Who cares?
Despite all the carping I do during the school year, I care about my students. So I want to quit every year because of what my students have to go through, because of what I have to go through for them, to protect them against the mind-numbing vacuity that is often passed off as instruction; and every year I come back to go through it all again. I am not writing this to be a martyr; I wish I could just quit, but I can’t. I am fairly good at what I do, I make enough money to live a fairly comfortable middle-class life; and I am too far along to start over in a new career. And despite all the time it takes of my life, I enjoy when the teaching is actually happening. Sometimes a shining moment.