What a Good Teacher Does
“You need to leave there and go home. Now.”
“It’s ok. We will tell your parents, together.”
“Tell me where you are. Do you need me to come and get you?”
“No. I don’t think this will keep you from getting into college.”
“That’s not true. I care.”
“You’re welcome. I love you, too.”
When you become a teacher, at least if you become a good teacher, your role goes far beyond teaching state standards.
If you become a great teacher, in your own misguided ways it means you are teaching your students about everything…in the purest, most heartfelt way you know how. That’s what a great teacher does best.
I befriend. I teach. I joke. I redirect. I listen. I coach. I scold. I hug and high-five. I counsel. I worry. I love.
The problem is, some people don’t want that kind of teaching…all the kinds I have to offer, I mean. Certainly not in the way I offer them. Parents, administrators, students, peers, colleagues…they are thankful for what I do when it’s the encouragement I’m offering. Every parent loves to see their child’s name in lights, screamed from the rooftops for all to see. Parents totally dig it when a teacher loves and is proud of their child and when that teacher is me they say “Thanks, DQ. That was so cool of you.” It’s special to get this acknowledgment from teachers in a field where burnout causes them (us) to go home each day instead of noticing anything going on outside the walls of their (my) classroom. It’s a really long day when your job merges over into your off-time.
The fatigue caused by dealing with teenagers all. day. long. causes teachers to miss the ballgames and the drama productions, the charity events and the competitions, but a good teacher goes to those things anyway. I cheer, I clap and I root for those kids when they are showing me what great people they are. It has always been a part of my arsenal…I try to show your children how proud I am of what they do. I try to paint the beautiful strokes of a heartfelt compliment to someone else’s child every day, to one of them near me when I notice them doing something amazing.
But kids aren’t always awesome and amazing, are they?
So some days I speak up in other ways, like a mom would. I speak up like I hope someone would do for my child, like my child’s teachers have, in fact, done before. I parent them. I cross a line. I do that because there’s also a thing called tough love and it’s tough when I tell them that what they’re doing is wrong. It’s impulsive. Or maybe it’s illegal. Or dangerous.
Then everyone gets angry because it’s unprofessional of me to do that, and it’s rude, and it’s none of my business…
…because I’m just a teacher. It’s not my place.
How dare I bother to care what other people’s children do?
Well, it’s simple. I am the kind of teacher that loves your child. I treat them like I treat my own.
I’m the kind of teacher my favorite teacher was, the one who told me not to date that boy in high school because she knew he wasn’t good for me. It was out of line and none of her business when she did that but she was right about him. Then there was the one teacher who told me I was hurting someone else’s feelings, and also hurting myself by being harsh with my friends. There was the one who told me I was being lazy, unmotivated, and undeserving, or maybe she saw me being disrespectful. Well, I probably was and at my age and in my position now, I guess that’s why I do it too, because I think one day they will appreciate it and they will know it came from love. It definitely does.
The students of my past were young, immature, emotional and impetuous young people ten years ago, so angry at me at times when they found themselves the target of my teaching…ok, my ‘mothering.’ But they come to find me…now… and they tell me they want to be teachers, too, like me. Some just want to say “thank you, DQ.” They see me for what I am in this moment of their lives and not so much what I was to them way back when. They realize after years of their own growing and maturing that I was one of the teachers they knew who sincerely and wholeheartedly cared about what happened to them.
It would be easier for everyone if I didn’t teach this way. It would be easier if I didn’t notice the rebelliousness, the bullying, the drugs, if I didn’t ask about the pregnancy, the bruises, or the cut marks. If I decided that something was none of my business, my life would be so much easier! If I turned my eyes away when I saw something a mom might want to know about, something I would want to know about as a mom, but probably never will, because I know my kid doesn’t tell me everything.
Yes, that would be easier on me I think, if I decided to become that teacher. I could do my job and nothing more. I could stay between the hours and between the lines and when I was asked for help, I would say “talk to your parents about this instead, I really shouldn’t get involved,” knowing that kids always tell their parents the truth about everything, right? And then I would hope your children found someone good and kind to talk to, someone who would guide them in the right direction. Someone who loves them. Since so many don’t want the teacher to be that person.
Because remember, a teacher is just supposed to teach. Math. History. English, and nothing more. All the good ones know their place, right?
No. All the great ones love. And they get involved.
And that’s the kind of teacher I am.