Dispatches | December 01, 2011
On Wanting to Teach
My little brother told us over Thanksgiving that his ninth-grade French teacher is “New-Agey” in a voice that made him sound like somebody else’s conservative father. The term wasn’t exactly correct, especially after my older brother replied by recounting his bad experience with a creative writing professor who made the class sit on the floor. Now that’s New Age. My little brother said his teacher didn’t teach them any new vocabulary or require them to use a textbook. He felt unprepared for tests and next year’s course. But worse, he knew that he wasn’t learning French.
I’m writing this blog post from a literature class that I described as “completely pointless” over my plate of mashed potatoes. There’s no gimmick to this class and the professor is Old Age in more ways than one. Our class has a book, tests, and we sit in chairs, but I have the same complaint as my brothers; I don’t feel like I’m learning anything. We discussed our best and our worst teachers for most of dinner and we all recognized that crossed-legs, textbooks, or not, there was a distinguishable divide of good and bad. What seemed blurrier was how to measure the distinction and what exactly could make a student feel like they weren’t learning anything.
Before I misrepresent myself as an overly critical student in an end of semester slump, I’ll go ahead and reveal that I’m actually a terrified senior reaching post-graduate paranoia. I don’t want to attend graduate school and I don’t want to spend a couple of years backpacking. I want to be productive and engaged somewhere between these poles. I think I want to be a teacher. This has made hearing my little brother groan at his young teacher’s tactics make me want to just go get my MFA (no offense), something easier than being at the front of a classroom while a student rolls her eyes and continues typing a blog post.
I have had national teaching programs bookmarked on my computer for months and I have only mustered the courage to apply to a job writing copy for a clothing company in Los Angeles. I have no desire to go to Los Angeles. I only thought to apply after I read over the application to teach and felt too unqualified to do anything but online shop. I can participate easily in a conversation about the United States’ failing model for education, where systems lack in providing adequate degrees for teachers, how a student like my little brother is considered successful as long as he keeps his test scores up, but still leave his classroom wondering what the point was. When it comes to articulating a 200-400 word response on an application about what I would do in a hypothetical situation where inner-city middle schoolers won’t turn off their Ipods or sit up in their chairs, I remember that I don’t know what I would do.
Obviously there are legitimate reasons for asking a potential teacher about classroom distractions, but these hypothetical situations have Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, white savior connotations, which I want no part in. Both women played problematic roles in movies where they inspired classrooms of inner-city youth until they were obedient. I understand the important job of a teacher, but it’s not the most intimidating or enticing part of my desire to become one. I’m both a twenty-one-year-old and a Creative Nonfiction writer. I’m expected to be self-centered and it’s an expectation I don’t reject. I know how to get excited about reading and writing and learning. I want to be a teacher because I think it will be selfishly satisfying. As far as I could discern after three glasses of wine at Thanksgiving dinner, this want for self-fulfillment seems to be an indicator of a good teacher.
A selfish teacher isn’t distracted with being noble. I am more qualified and happier than most to talk about the fun, nuance, art, language, history etc. of storytelling. I want to impose my excitement on a classroom of students because this is what I want to talk about and what I believe is important. I will be obnoxious or weird, but as long as I don’t leave a day of school feeling empty, I don’t think that my students could either. I still haven’t completed an application, but if a student is listening to an Ipod, I guess I’ll tell them to turn it off.
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