Probably the coolest thing about teaching is being a micro-celebrity. When kids know you and come to you for advice or inspiration, it really makes you feel good. So much of teaching involves deadlines and standards, it isn’t a cakewalk by any means. But it’s those times when a student relies on you, asks your opinion, or tells you the impact you had on them that keep you happy on the job. My doctor once asked me how I can do such a job with the “petrie dishes” all around. While I agree with him there are a lot of germs in teaching, I explained that when it’s good, it’s the most gratifying profession I can imagine. I guess we hang on for those times. Sometimes we even give up and those times come to our rescue. When kids “know you” it makes you feel like you’re making a difference. So if we have this ability to boost kids’ spirits and even their self-esteem, why is the emphasis of teaching academics? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy academic pursuits in my class. When someone makes a milestone, I am the first and the loudest to congratulate that person. At the same time, it seems we’ve lost our place in the media for being the “goto guy or girl” for kids in our world. The kids may know the barber or the guy at the grocery store but they don’t know adults outside their family as well as they know us. We should have more training in psychology and counseling for that reason. Instead of always talking academics, we should be encouraged to talk social skills sometimes and we shouldn’t have to worry that it isn’t 100% academic.
When kids know you, it reminds you to be responsible. As teachers, we find out every day how little about the world our kids know. They look to us for explanation, description. One example is the other day we were reading a story where the setting “Times Square” came up. On student thought it meant a geometrical cube. I showed them photos and explained it to them as I watched their eyes widen. Over Winter break, one of my students told me she watched the ball drop and “it looked a lot like Times Square.” It is a privilege when kids know you and you have to take that trust very seriously. I’ve joked with students through the years saying one day I might be on a hospital gurney being whisked into surgery only to find one of them there saying hello to me as my surgeon. It could happen! What a proud moment that would be. Then I use that as a motivator to get them to memorize their times tables. You can’t be a doctor without those. I suppose you could even argue they would know that if I didn’t explain it. These are heavy days to be a teacher, we should be careful to not forget our crucial place in the culture.