By Leonard Apa
Okay, so yeah, I am a fairly new teacher. I’ve only been on the job for about three years, and most of that time has been spent as a long-term substitute trying to figure out what I’m doing. I have been contracted for just over a year and, while I am more comfortable with my position now, I’m still figuring out what I’m doing.
I mention this because maybe I am naïve, and maybe I have a romantic vision of teaching that stems from watching Mr. Feeny on “Boy Meets World.” He always knew what to say. He always knew how to help, and despite moments of exasperation at his young charges, he always cared. So, who wouldn’t want to be Mr. Feeny? Or if the Feeny comparison doesn’t work for you, how about Mr. Kotter from “Welcome Back Kotter”? Kotter and Feeny made a connection with their students, and that is what enabled them to teach them.
Here’s the thing: while my idealistic vision of teaching may sometimes feel impossible to reach, does that mean we shouldn’t strive for it anyway?
I’m sure you’ve heard before to stay out of the faculty room because that is where the most negativity lies. But in my school the faculty room is unavoidable because that is where the savior and bane of a teacher’s existence is housed: it is home to the copy machines. More and more I’m hearing teachers complain about the students, about teaching and about the job. More and more I’m seeing that some teachers seem burned out.
If, as a teacher, you feel yourself slipping into that mindset, or if you want to avoid it, then why not seek out other teachers who can help rekindle the passion for teaching you once had. The students feel it when you’re not in it, and so do your co-workers.
I am excited to walk into the classroom every day and discuss Odysseus’s journey home, or Scout and Jem’s path to maturity, or the jaded, cynical voice of Holden Caulfield. I get excited to see the recognition of these characters in the eyes of my students. Sure, they have no experience reading the text, but they know the characters; in some cases, they are the characters. Every day, I put on a show for my students, and every day I get a response. Is it always positive? No. But I show my students that I care about the material, and I care if they understand it or not.
Isn’t that the point to teaching? Isn’t it just as important as giving students the means to succeed? Isn’t caring the whole reason to get into this profession? As a teacher we must care about the job. We must care about the student. Think about it: we get no other reward, no bigger reward than that moment when the student “gets it.”
I guess if there is any point I’m trying to make, it’s this: students aren’t dumb. They are disengaged. They wonder, as they always have, as I did when I was in high school, what is the point of spending seven hours in school and another two to three on homework. It’s up to us to show them the point. It is part of our job to get them excited to learn the material.
A teacher who managed to reach me in high school, told me recently that every job gets old. We go through waves, and we go through ups and downs, but it is up to us to find that spark again. Start caring about the job. Show these students that you care about them. Remember the only thing we can truly count on in life is change. There is a scene in “The Breakfast Club” where Vernon is sitting with the custodian Carl and Vernon says, “…each year these kids get more and more arrogant,” and Carl responds, “…the kids haven’t changed. You have.”
Well, maybe it’s time we changed again.
Leonard Apa is a member of the Jackson Education Association. He is an English and journalism teacher at Jackson Memorial High School in Ocean County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.