"Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." —William Butler Yeats
If the intervening weeks between my last post and this one weren’t a clear enough indication, the school year has started. And the deluge has begun. Lesson planning, grading, lesson planning, grading, winging it, and more grading—such are the rhythms of a teacher’s life. Yet—what a life it is!
Each year I am struck more and more by how confounding the profession of teaching is. It is dynamic and at times grueling, a job that always comes home with you, but beyond the frenzied madness of it all I find it deeply rewarding. I spend my days investing in the lives of teens, prodding their minds and urging them onward toward depth and nuance. And along the way I get to delve into my favorite works of literature and unveil them before my students’ untrained eyes, watching as they experience so many firsts with the written word.
Every week I utter the phrase, “I love this job.” Some weeks, it’s every day.
These first few weeks I have been edging slowly into literary analysis with my students, examining a single aspect of a short story at a time. At each turn, students are discovering that there is so much more “texture”—to borrow a term from Bradbury—to literature than they initially expected. We’ve explored the works of such luminaries as Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Conner, Hemingway, Donald Barthelme, Aimee Bender, and Tim O’Brien, and at each new story students confess that they’ve never read anything like that before. After years of lying dormant, their sense of wonder regarding literature is beginning to awaken. Being at the helm of their experience is exhilarating.
Granted, I should state that, due to whatever cosmic fate, I have landed in one of the best school districts in my state, teaching AP-level classes in a community where striving for excellence is a part of the culture. I recognize this is not the norm. I have teacher friends who labor in vineyards so foreign from mine that their experiences have almost no overlap with my own.
But for all of us who feel called into this profession, it is the light in our students’ eyes when at last the cogs whir to life in a new and surprising way that draws us again and again to the classroom. When the stacks of grading grow too high, when the administration outlines yet another superfluous or ill-concocted policy, when the teenagers who fill our classrooms exasperate us for behaving exactly how teenagers are wired to behave—it is good to remember why we entered the classroom in the first place. In that way, my students teach me again and again to never lose my own sense of wonder.
I love this job.