Sunday, August 5, 2012

What Teachers Make

Well, I have taken a little bit of a hiatus from blogging this past month.  This has occurred mostly because I mentally gave myself the month of July to take a break from thinking about school.  Of course, that didn't happen.  I read our new class novels and worked on lesson plans and rethought my approach to the first day of school this year.  I did have the excellent good fortune to do some traveling this past month.  I went to Chicago for the first time and loved it; I went to Branson to watch my little sister compete in a national dance competition, and I finished out the month at the beach in Florida. (And, yes, I did look up job openings before I left.  I could seriously live Jimmy Buffett-style in Florida for the rest of my days.)  Alas, teachers make less in Florida than they do in Arkansas, and the cost of living is decidedly higher, so my teach-at-the-beach dreams were dashed.  I also happen to teach at an awesome middle school here in central Arkansas, so I'd be pretty dumb to give that up....

On the subject of "what teachers make," I read an excellent "get pumped up" back-to-school book while I was lounging and listening to the ocean.  It's called What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali.  This book was published in March of this year, but it's based on a poem that Mr. Mali wrote in 2006.  You can watch him perform it at a slam poetry reading here.  I had never read the poem "What Teachers Make" until I happened to pick up this little book at Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago when I went to pick up some books for my classroom.  Standing in the middle of the store, reading the poem, I wanted to shout "Amen! Preach it!"  What he says in the poem is all so resoundingly true.  Teachers get paid in intrinsic dividends.  We reap our rewards in the light bulb moments of our students and in the awesome emails from parents that say "Thank you so much for helping my kid love English."  It's in those small, sweet moments that I am constantly reminded that I do this job because it is a challenge that I can rise to meet every day that I walk into my classroom, and I have always loved a challenge.

Mr. Mali says in his book, "I teach for the fire, the moment of ignition, the spark, the lightbulb of cognition going on in the dark over an adolescent's head...They say those who teach must never cease to learn. I teach for the moment everything catches fire and finally starts to burn."  I don't care how idealistic it sounds, this is why I teach.  I teach for the chance to burn down some kid's misconceptions and personal doubt and replace it with understanding and confidence.  I know there are teachers in the world who are tired.  They feel like the kids are too difficult or too different from how they used to be, or the administration isn't supportive enough, or they don't have the right tools and technology.  And I get it.  All those things are probably true.  But the real challenge and the real success comes in getting over all that and realizing that one person can make a big difference, even if that big difference is only happening for one kid who needs it more than anything.

As I look toward tomorrow and the next two weeks of rebuilding my classroom and preparing for a new group of students, I am also looking back to this time last year.  I am looking back to the nervousness and excitement that I felt about the journey I was beginning as a "real" teacher.  I am looking back at the successes and mistakes and joys and disappointments, both professional and personal, that were my first year, and I am making a promise to learn from them.  I don't have that first year nervousness anymore, but I do have that spark, that desire "not to produce Ivy League graduates, but to encourage the development of naturally curious, confident, flexible, and happy learners who are ready for whatever the future has in store."  I hope that's something I always have with me.  Because that is truly what teachers make.

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