Day 52 Supplemental: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Learning’

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I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but before I was a corporate trainer for travel agents, and before I was a travel agent, I was a high school English teacher. I graduated from university in 2012 and right after I was hired at the school where I did my student teaching. Which became a problem. Because before I was a high school teacher, and before I graduated from university, I was a high school student myself. And I was very, very good.

My high school has regularly ranked among the top in the nation in terms of academics from publications such as The Washington Post and Newsweek. I had to take a test, do an interview, and get letters of recommendation from my middle school teachers in order to attend. I enjoyed the rigor and the intense academic focus. I was always a very gifted student and regularly excelled in my classes. Because of this I don’t really have many memories in high school of having to study much, worrying about grades, or really struggling in class. I don’t say this to brag. I say it as a precursor to my experience as a teacher.

See I was hired at a school that regularly had academic and disciplinary issues. The school’s SAT and ACT scores, college acceptance rate, and graduation rate was one of the lowest in the county. I taught three classes of sophomores and two classes of juniors. Four of these were inclusive classrooms, which meant that with the assistance of a paraprofessional I had to teach, and modify lessons for, students with learning and behavioral problems. As a young teacher, fresh out of school and with a very unassuming demeanor, my students regularly and mistakenly tried to test their boundaries in class. I’ve had students threaten to fight me, some who straight got up and left in the middle of the day, and others who had…more inappropriate….intentions towards me. And during all of that I was still trying to explain to them the values and lessons of Shakespeare, Salinger, Hemingway, and Beckett.

Needless to say, the transition was rocky, if I could even say I ever did make the transition at all.

I left after my first year of teaching. I thought, given my academic background, I would be Far Sidea suitable candidate for a teacher. I still do love literature and writing. I have not lost my passion for teaching and sharing knowledge with others. I have simply had to find another venue to channel my desire to teach outside of the classroom. I was a pretty sub-par travel agent but in my current role I am very proud to say I have become quite accomplished within the company as I tour the country and train my peers.

What I learned from my experience is that being a good student does not necessarily make you a good teacher. In fact, I would venture to say it may actually be an obstacle for a good educator to overcome.

See I came from a personal background of pressure for academic excellence. It was expected of me by my family and culture so wanting to excel was ingrained into me. It was then paired with a natural inclination towards accelerated learning and a voracious appetite for knowledge. Being placed in a magnet school that attracted only the top students of each local high school in the region also did not give me any sort of realistic expectation and image of the regular high school experience and student body.

I could not relate to the students I had. Perhaps if I was miraculously immediately hired by my own high school I would have fit in perfectly and still been in education. But not all schools are like mine. In fact most aren’t. Most have schools with students who have to balance personal and academic life. Most schools have to contend with issues like lack of funding (my high school had its own electron microscope) and a student body that lacks an internal drive for academic success. Therefore these schools need teachers who know how to reach beyond the subject matter. Relate to students on a personal level. Identify with family problems, social pressure, cultural identity. I was an Asian-American teacher in a primarily African-American and Hispanic school. These schools need teachers who know not just the material but how to get the students interested, excited, and invested in it as well. I never had to worry about that as a student because I personally already loved the material and I never really saw how a teacher could do that effectively because my teachers took advantage of and were very comfortable with the situation and the fact that they were teaching the top students in the area.

I had very little prior experience that could apply to the situation my students were in. Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching. And despite it all there were those brief shining moments where I truly loved what I was doing and felt a genuine connection with my students. But these are the very broad universal truths we all share. When you do a Holocaust literature unit you know you can relate to feelings of loss, isolation, paranoia, fear, hate, anger, etc. When you do Frederick Douglas or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a primarily black school that’s just dialing it in but you know you’ll be able to elicit personal response and interest. Beyond that I could not do what some of my colleagues were doing, and in a school that desperately needed it, these were some of the best teachers I have ever met who possessed that skill. Ultimately I knew that to stay any longer in this school I may end up hating either the profession or the students, and it would be a disservice to both if that would happen. Being a teacher is not like many other professions. You cannot quit in the middle of the year. You cannot allow yourself to be comfortable with mediocrity. A bad chef makes a bad dish. A bad teacher can make a bad person.

Hobbit

I don’t think I’m saying, or would say, I was a bad teacher. I believe I still do have very important messages and lessons to share with others. I believe I have the ability and the skill to portray my teachings in relatable ways. I just don’t think I had that then, nor did I understand why it was so important. Even now I do not think I can relate to what students are going through anymore. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a student in this world. But I can understand what it is like to be alone, so I write about loneliness. I can relate to love and being loved and wanting to love another, so I write about relationships. I feel for the pressures of dealing with the public and the difficulty of managing expectations of clients and the company so I can teach in an accessibly way to travel agents. I can speak to what I know, and though I may not know much what I do know, I know deeply and personally and wholly.

People should never lose their propensity and their desire for learning and education. And though we may not be the best teachers in all aspects, I do also believe we all have some lessons we can share with the world.

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22 thoughts on “Day 52 Supplemental: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Learning’

  1. Wow! Really great post. You may not have reached your students on the level that they needed but to me, it sounds like you made a great English teacher. Just not in the type of school you wanted. I’m actually going to school to be a teacher, elementary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to want to be a teacher but thankfully I realized how bad I would have been at it. I didn’t like school at all as a student, I don’t know why I thought it might be different as a teacher.
    This was such a good post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Education is definitely a calling that requires a huge amount of reflection and self awareness. It has to be something you really feel in your bones to want to do. But we can always impart knowledge to others and still teach without being teachers!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh that’s very true. I was certain I wanted it when I was in high school. We had to do this project that was a basically a research paper about our future jobs. I spent half the school year working on it and I wasn’t swayed. I don’t know how I managed to get that far.
        I agree that we don’t have to be teachers to pass out knowledge along. Thank goodness for blogs so I can do that from behind a screen without ever having to go out and interact with people.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this with a heavy heart and reflected on how many good educators have been driven away from the profession. I sense that had you had students like yourself, you would have been an invaluable part of their education. It’s hard to find a good fit.

    I had a similar experience, but with elementary students. I actually had a teacher tell me that I should not expect to inspire them to learn, but instead what these students needed was to be spoon fed information. I still feel taken aback just thinking about it. It was the longest year of my life, but every day I endured with a smile and a dedication to my students, even if at the end of the day I wanted to curl up under my desk and cry from frustration – both from the students and the administration.

    I’m glad you found a niche that works for you. I continue to serve, but on a temporary, my-call basis. Thankfully I’m the second income in a stable 2 income family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. I’m glad it was able to speak to you so personally.
      I do think if I had the chance to go back to where I learned, to pay back all that it had given me, I would have been happy and done well. But I didn’t get that chance and I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s.
      I’m happy now, but always looking towards the future of course! If teaching is your calling and you still get to do it in any capacity that’s always a great thing to hear so happy to see you find opportunities still also.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My mother is a teacher and she gets constantly badgered by her bosses because she has an intimidating presence. Haha. Anyway, she never settles for less when it comes to teaching her students, and that’s what I like about her. This was such an inspiring story and very nostalgic for me. Most of my aunts in my father’s side of the family are teachers and my closest cousin is one, too. You are (or were) a great teacher.
    Erin of Freedom Writers in her male form. Haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s high praise! Hahah. It was only for a short time but I am tremendously proud of the year I spent among some incredible people in such a noble profession. Yeah my father’s side are all teachers. My grandfather was a mathematics professor, my uncle is a dean of dentistry, and my family is strongly tied to one of the major universities in the Philippines!
      Your mother is answering a truly noble calling and I hope she loves it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s good to hear. A short time is never a short time when spent with good and amazing people. Wow! That’s incredibly amazing! And yes, she is. It’s especially nice when go someplace and one or two of her students see her and greets her, afterwards, she’d still remember the who,what,and when details about the student no matter how long it’s been! My mom has been, for the longest time, on the top of the greatest teachers in my list. Haha. Although, I do have my own list for those who really taught me in school, too. I have such high regard for good teachers, as you can surmise. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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