Originally posted on February 6, 2017, “The Business of Changing Lives” states in no uncertain terms my role as an educator and how seriously I take that responsibility. If only others were as virtuous, but I digress.
People keep asking me, “What’s going on with the book, what’s going on with the book?”
Simply put, and it hurts to admit it, but nothing.
Not for lack of want, though. The book has been edited three times. It is, in my opinion, ready to be considered for representation. I have not, however, had the time to research agents and put together queries and send them out. Sure, this feeling is like an itch in the center of my back I can’t seem to reach. Yet, I’ve never been more content from a teaching standpoint. That does not mean I’m happy with School policy. Or the inequitable distribution of work and responsibility. Or even the high regard some awful teachers hold themselves in. If you have to go out of your way to pat yourself on the back, you probably suck at whatever you do.
Anyway, I’ve remained at a small private school in Westchester for seven years. Why?
It’s certainly not for the pay.
Or the benefits.
Or even the mission of the school.
No, it’s because I have a chance to do something very few teachers – especially Middle School teachers – do on a regular basis (if at all): influence, impress, mold, and change.
As I’ve mentioned in the October 4, 2016 piece “They’re All Grown Up,” some of my students I have witnessed grow from callow, insouciant, apathetic sixth graders to accountable, upstanding, prideful young adults by the time they graduate high school. This small, 170-kid K-12 has granted me the privilege to witness these young children accept their high school diplomas as mature men and women.
I have known and worked with certain families in the school for as long as I’ve been here. Teaching two or even three of their children over the years certainly ages me. At the same time, it also gives me a sense of purpose. I really can make a difference. And I do. Even when they are no longer middle school students, I advise them on managing a high school course load and extra-curricular activities. Or I tutor them for the SATs. Sometimes, I just listen because they need someone to talk to.
In the classroom through my anecdotal teaching style and my belief that the first step to improving one’s writing is to actually WRITE, I enable my students to discover who they are and what they value. I challenge them to consider what type of person they want to be when they grow older when we discuss issues facing our society today – bullying, gender/race/religious discrimination, hate, sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol, and misinformation among many others.
And these discussions are not easy to have. Yet, they, we, must have them. That is how we inform ourselves. That is how we grow our understanding of diverse groups and their beliefs (hint to politicians on both sides of the aisle). This applies strongly to my ninth grade class, which I’m teaching for the first time since my Bridgeport stint in 2008.
If asked for a common thread that connects all of my classes, I would say the empowering of students to think autonomously. I want my students to leave my class with the confidence and ability to take a position and substantiate it with facts. And some of them – I’d like to think a lot of them in their own way – do.
Whether they stay for high school and or go elsewhere, they come back and say thank you. For challenging them, for pushing them to strive for something far greater than average or good. And, most importantly, for enabling them to believe in themselves. And that validates what I do.
I never had that experience at Grand Avenue Middle School. Those remain some of the most uncomfortable years of my life. And I have not seen the inside of that place since I walked out of it at the age of 13.
Let’s be honest: middle school English does not matter from a grades standpoint. With that said, I view it as the time where students develop crucial study skills and learning strategies. Don’t discount it: they will use these throughout their academic lives when the results actually count. More so, they learn how to manage complex and dense work and prioritize according to the class and its demands. If their parents allow them to do so, but that’s a discussion for another day.
I certainly am not thumping my chest here. I know that every kid I teach will not remember every writing or organizational technique I model. However, if I can teach each one lesson, then I have given him/her something useful. Which is more than a teacher who does not stand up for the bullied or ignores cheating or promotes single-mindedness or makes the kids memorize MLA format or obscure historical events ever can say.
If you’re not Changing Lives as a teacher, then you’re missing the point of education.
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