Shout-out - FamilyEducation

Shout-out

September 16,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I love teaching, and I love my job. But like any job, you can also go through ups and downs--days when you feel undervalued, and spread-too-thin, and plain old frustrated with the people around you. Actually, parenting can be like that, too. But because teaching involves so much public performance, and energy, and sorting out of personalities and learning needs inside the classroom, it can also be particularly draining--more so than other jobs, I think. A bad day in the classroom can catch you in a web of self-doubts: Am I good teacher? Was I prepared enough? Have I lost my touch? Did I present the material in the wrong way? Explain too much? Too little?

And it's been a rocky, draining, I'm-spread-too-thin week so far, with lots of rough classes, and self-doubts flowing right and left. Yesterday, I was sitting in my office, feeling a little sorry for myself, and trying not to look at the stack of homework papers waiting to be checked, when a student dropped by. I sighed a little inside--not because I didn't want to see him, but because so far this week it seems as if every student I come across has some complaint: too much work, too little work, work that's too boring (really!), work that's confusing, work that hasn't been done, work that was done but not turned in and here's why, work they don't want to do and here's why. I am gracious about complaints when I can be, because they help make me a better teacher--I know that, but they do wear on you after awhile.

When I saw this student I braced myself. He's in an afternoon class I'm having particular troubles with--mostly because of a small handful of students with, as I call it, "strong personalities." What would he say now? What issues would I have to field and sort out for him?

He came and sat down in the big chair by my desk. He looked nervous, and a little ill-at-ease.

"What can I help you with?" I asked, setting my red pen down on the desk.

"Oh no," he said. "I just came by to talk!"

And he sat and we talked for almost thirty minutes--about college, life in general, his job, whether or not he should go to a call-back for a play he auditioned for, his mother, my kids, his history class, and the lack of male teachers and--in particular, African-American male teachers--in elementary schools. As it turned out, he was just a lonely first semester freshman, looking to reach out and connect, and spend some time with a friendly face.

He made my day, he really did. Yes, there are those teachers in everyone's lives who we need to thank, and remember, but there are those students, too--the ones who make it all so worthwhile, and who remind us why we love our jobs.