Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Teacher's Regrets

The flava:

I was 23 and had landed a job as a teacher in Skaneateles, NY, a village that sits at the northern tip of one of the pristine Finger Lakes. I didn't know much, but fresh from college, I didn't know that yet.

The meat:

Southern Bubba, Ph.D.


  1. This is both a teacher's greatest hope and greatest fear, isn't it -- that a single, perhaps even offhand, comment could have great influence on a student's life.

    My guess is that, for better or for worse, that doesn't actually happen all that often. Or maybe I just want to believe that because I don't actually want that kind of power, or responsibility (in fact, if I believed teachers had 1/100th of the power that some of the more optimistic, meant-to-be-inspiring paeans to teachers assume, I'd be absolutely paralyzed with the fear of causing harm).

    I do believe, mind you, in the cumulative power of good, supportive but demanding teaching, from multiple teachers, over time (and, conversely, in the destructive power of an ongoing experience with demeaning and/or insufficiently challenging pedagogy*). But given the realities of this world and our fallen human condition, I rather hope the power of individual teachers is limited.

    *I also believe the studies that suggest that factors such as economic status; family stability; access to sufficient food and decent housing, clothing, and medical care; etc., etc. have far more influence on student outcomes, especially in the K-12 years, than anything a teacher can do. Of course, how a teacher views hir students' situation -- as the product of their parents' poor decisions or the product of larger societal/economic forces, as unbreakable chains or obstacles that can, with appropriate support, be overcome -- does matter, and that seems to be what the author is getting at. Still, I'd argue that even an event a student remembers as pivotal, for good or for ill, is likely to be one that has acquired symbolic significance in the telling and retelling of the student's internal life narrative over time because it stands in for a whole complex of related events/factors.

  2. Masterfully written. I did cry a little bit.

    I had a bizarre experience in the reverse. Bumped into my old fourth grade teacher while shopping for groceries. She came up and, somewhat presumptuously, hugged me.

    I didn't have particularly fond memories of her. She wasn't the worst, but she wasn't pleasant. And here she told me all about how I was her favorite and she knew I was going to do great things and how she loved reading my writing. She said that she used one of my former book reports up until she retired as an example to other students.

    It reached a very primal part of my being that deeply desires to be noteworthy to and loved by others.

  3. This article brought to mind the tensions within the town in which I was raised, and the nearby town where I attended gradeschool for a few years. I was well into double digits, age-wise, when I finally concluded that every vocation and position in life can attach to dignity, intelligence, and integrity.

    The story also dredged up how much of an asshole I was to my teachers up till approximately grad school. It may be conveniently selective memory, but I don't recall thinking that any of them were being unreasonable in return, except in a few instances for which, in retrospect, they should be forgiven, given what I put them through.


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