Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Heart to Teach

The other day, I received a note from a former student.  It was one of those notes that made me realize how blessed I have been to teach throughout the years and influence the lives of young people.

From the time I was in Kindergarten, I dreamt of being a teacher.  Oh, my reasons changed throughout the years, but my goal was always the same.  When I was 5, I just thought it would be cool to write on a chalkboard all day long.  By the time I was in the 6th grade, I had an opportunity to work with a very bright Kindergartner and that is when the idea of really teaching took hold.  By the time I was in 9th grade, I realized that spending the entire day with a bunch of little children that would never understand my sarcastic humor would not do, so I would become a high school teacher.  English would be my focus as it was my favorite subject and, if a certain group of kids were annoying, they'd be out the door in 45-minutes.  When I was in college, I knew I wanted to teach in a public school rather than in Christian and even do some time in a foreign country teaching English.  I wanted teaching to be more than a job, but a ministry.

I know my dreams seemed pretty naive and idealistic…but having a couple of teachers who cared for me beyond test scores and helped me through some critical points in my young life, I always knew I wanted to do more than teach.  I wanted to let kids know I cared.  I wanted to make a difference.

The thing is, I never did graduate college.  I had to leave the college I loved after my freshman year due to lack of finances.  I attended a local college and I struggled academically.  Eventually, my then-boyfriend got down on one knee on a May evening and proposed.  I said "yes," finished my last week of college and never returned.  I received a marriage certificate and turned my back on a degree.

However, a year later, God gave me my first opportunity to teach in a real school setting.  I substituted regularly in a Christian school in Vermont.  I spent a little time in the fourth grade as well as in the high school history classroom; but I spent most of my days substituting for the English teacher.  I also was the Spelling Team's coach and that year we made it all the way to the State Spelling Bee.  (Trust me, you haven't experienced stress until you've coached a spelling team….my nails are still growing back.)  Anyway, I am still in touch with students I had in my classroom back then.

After moving away from New England, there was a 12 year hiatus in my teaching career.  Then, after giving birth to my 7 children and beginning the homeschool journey with them, we began our homeschool co-op and I've since been able to teach in a classroom situation often.  Each year I teach, I love it more.  Each class becomes my favorite.  In time, the students are not just "my students", but "my kids."  We have fun together.  I get to know them.   I learn their individual strengths and weaknesses.  I am a teacher who loves for the kids to talk in class and only have them start raising their hands if the chatter gets to be too much.  I hate to be the only one talking.  A child who talks back to me is a child who is engaged and is learning. 

The blessing of a homeschool co-op is that we get to have the fun of teaching and learning without the politics.  No grades are given, no report cards and, in my classes, homework is optional.  While I have had teachers stress about their students not completing their homework assignment, my theory has always been that if the student wants to get the most out of the class, they'll do the homework.  If not, they'll still get something out of it, if I do my job correctly.  It's up to them to decide if the time doing homework for my class is time well-spent.  If they are struggling with a class at home that is more important to their future goals and choose to let my class assignment slide, I respect that decision.

Last year, I taught a speech class and we did a skit for our end-of-year program.  Working with those who struggled speaking loud enough or clear enough was a joy to my heart as I saw them transform into confident, clear speakers with just a bit of consistent encouragement.  A couple of the students found their niches in assisting me in directing.  They got a taste of leadership and they blossomed.  I realized that, yes, I was The Teacher and "in charge", but truly, these kids had a gift that we all could benefit from.  I've seen too many teachers who have to be The Teacher in Charge and the kids are expected to take orders, no questions asked.  These are the teachers that the kids mutter about under their breath, right or wrong.  I loved the ideas my kids had and they loved the idea that I would listen to them.

While I spent three years in college learning English literature, grammar, some education theories, etc., most of my learning how to be a great teacher was by being a student in the classrooms of great teachers.  Compassionate teachers.  Teachers who listened after class about the trials of a young girl.  My parents split up when I was in the second grade.  That teacher didn't coddle me, but I remember she  cared.  I remember, most of all, her joy and smile when I came back for my third grade year and told her my parents had gotten back together.  My sixth grade teacher kept my secret for as long as I asked her when my parents split up again that year.  I was so afraid of what my classmates would think.  When things got too hard, she asked for our school guidance counsellor - a more compassionate man I still have yet to meet - to come in and talk about my situation to my class while I was out of the room.  My classmates took the example of these two kind teachers and showered me with kindness.  That 6th grade teacher became my 7th grade English teacher and the reason I chose to study English in college.  She regularly asked me how I was doing and encouraged me in my writing and studies.  She became more than a teacher…she was a friend and a confidante.

God has blessed me with the opportunity to teach through the years, even without a degree.  I have learned that it takes a loving heart, not a degree, to make a difference in the life of another.  I had teachers that made a difference in my life, and I choose to pass on the blessing.  The note I received the other day was worth more to me than any college diploma.  I may not frame it, but I will keep it tucked safely away and thank the Lord for the opportunity to touch the heart of a child…just like some sweet teachers touched and changed my heart so many years ago.

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