Monday, June 8, 2009

Becoming a Teacher

"How did you decide to become a teacher?"  I asked this question for many years of my students and of the experienced teachers that I had contact with.  One of the more prevalent answers was because "I had this exceptionally (good or bad) teacher in school."  Students grade teachers as much as teachers grade students.  I can remember in my high school days having both an  outstanding (for me) teacher and a teacher that was just this side of terrible.  Strangely enough the terrible teacher was very popular with most of my high school peers.  I guess I just didn't fit in with his teaching styles. 

So based on those meager experiences I thought to myself that given what I had seen of teachers I could become one.  I liked people.  The pay was low but it was steady.  All I had to do was get into college and learn how to teach.  No sweat.  No problem.  Remembering all this makes me embarrassed today.  How arrogant I was in my youth.  I suppose idealistic in my thinking.

But that same answer was given to me by scores of entering education students at my university.  "I wanted to be like my fourth grade teacher" or "my high school coach really turned me around" or "I had this horrible civic teacher and I knew I could do better."

For me my arrogance or idealism was brought to reality the summer of my sophomore year in college.  I returned home to the New York suburbs to be with my folks.  And of course I looked for a summer job to help with the finances.  I remember applying to the local city recreation department but was turned down. They had a full slate of playground supervisors.  "But we can use some volunteers during the summer."  I signed up.

It was a day or two later that phone rang and a lady asked if I would be will to accompany some children to the Bronx zoo the next day.  Yes, of course. I'd be delighted.

We met at the recreation headquarters and the adults that were volunteering were introduced--there were a number of us.  And a number of busses and hordes  of over excited kids. We loaded the busses and headed for the Bronx zoo.  Upon arriving, each adult was given about ten children and told be back at the busses by a certain time.  That was it.  And off I went with my ten kids.

They were good kids and excited.  Age ranged from about seven to maybe thirteen.  I got all boys.  I found out later that if you got half boys and half girls in your group you had an easier time of it.....but what was I to know.  All I remember is that we started out and keeping the kids in a group was my main challenge.  Also finding the rest rooms was important.  It seemed that everyone in my group was on a different schedule for this activity.  But we scampered from this exhibition to the next....  The kids and I were having a good time.

At noon I found a grassy area and we had our lunch and then back to seeing EVERYTHING!  By early afternoon, some of my little kids, the seven year olds were getting tired.  So I picked the first one up and put him on my shoulders....and on we went.   Soon I put him down and picked up the next small child.  

Somewhere along our meanderings we saw a child crying--I remember one of the bigger kids recognized him as being with our busses.  He was lost and I said, not to worry, come with us.  Shortly afterwards another lost one was spotted and told to get into line. My kids from the original group were somewhat smug that we hadn't lost anyone.....yet.  Soon after we spotted another crying and lost child from our recreation tour group.  "Come along, you belong to us now."  And I was getting tired--really beat.  Hauling a kid on your shoulders for much of the afternoon was tiring.  But it also gave my group a way of always knowing where I was--just look into the crowd and see someone on someone's shoulders--that would be our group.

I do think we visited just about every exhibit at the zoo.....and just about every rest room.  I was concerned as we headed back to the bus area.  The kids were dragging their tail ends and had slowed down considerably.  I was dragging as well but concerned that we would make the busses late.  

Around the corner and into the bus area.  There were our busses and there was a bunch of concerned adults.  It turns out that I had the answer to their concern--the missing three kids.  Everybody was happy.  And I felt good.  I had successfully herded ten plus kids around a zoo and no one got hurt or lost.  And I was  bushed.  

The next day there was a phone call from the recreation office.  Would I please come down and fill out some papers.  They had a job for me.  I was to be the recreation supervisor (with an assistant) for a city playground.  Cool.

But I instinctively knew that teaching would not be as easy as I first thought.  I had good success with the playground and I gained much confidence.  I learned that I didn't have to know everything but respecting the kids was important.  I could see in myself the growth of understanding that first summer working with the kids on the playground.  And I could see the same growth of understanding in my student teachers as they began their career in teaching.

Teaching is a complex and demanding profession that is not meant for everyone.  Most teachers could do other jobs and a few do leave the teaching profession (more about this in another blog).  But most HAVE to teach.  Low pay and long hours does not deter those that need to be a teacher.  

[A sidebar]  Recently on local and national news a high school student from the east side of the Lake Washington was given the assignment to find and look at different types of human cells.  This high school girl had been quite ill, hurting at times.  She obtained cells from her intestines  from her doctor and while looking at the slides discovered the cause of her illness which the medical labs had not seen.  She is well now and plans to become a medical doctor--thanks to her science teacher.

I'm glad I went into teaching and I thank all those kids who taught me much at the Bronx zoo that one day long ago.  Don't forget to thank a teacher for helping  you.

No comments:

Post a Comment