I drove up through the Terwiliger curves this afternoon to pick up my final paycheck. I taught a grad-level class in assessment this summer, three hours a week every Thursday night, and instead of having them mail my check to me I wanted to see campus one more time. I do this every time I teach there, because I'm convinced that it will be the last time. The money is not all that great, and it's a hassle teaching a required night class during summer semester. The campus is beautiful. I don't blame someone if they'd rather be sitting on that cool, green lawn right outside the window.
You've probably seen the video that's making the rounds - Matt Damon gives a testy reply to an interviewer who tries to draw a parallel between "job security" making him a better actor, and the threat of job loss somehow forging better teachers. I can tell you with all my heart that fear of losing my job is not what makes me teach. The money is not what makes me teach, although it may well be what gets me out the door and into the car on Thursday nights. Teachers teach. It's what they do.
I had a conversation with a massage therapist a while back about being a "healer." Some of us are just called into that trade, whether through experiences that healed us, or just a desire to make a difference in someone else's life. I think teachers are the same. Can anyone really imagine that elementary school teachers, embarking upon their education, really survey the career field and choose teaching so they can grow lazy in that plush guaranteed job?
I had the pleasure of taking a class from one of the great teachers of all time, Lawson Inada. Lawson had read his poetry at the White House. There was no Wikipedia at the time, but he's sure on there now. And Lawson taught me how to teach, disguised as lessons in creative writing. He understood that if we were distracted, or bored, or not engaged, that it was his responsibility. He kept us fascinated, every hot summer southern Oregon day, and we were always sad when class ended.
When I started teaching grad students, I was at a school that required all the students to bring laptops to class. When I was being interviewed for the job, the person hiring me started talking about ways to be sure that people weren't checking their email, or surfing porn, or whatever else they wanted to do. And none of those ways had to do with my solution, which was to try and be more interesting and engaging than whatever they could see on their screen. This is what teachers do. They teach. They engage. They become invested in the people they see in class.
As I walked back out to my car, a student crossed my path. She was intent on getting to where she was going. I envisioned her sitting in class, mind open, getting that feeling one gets when one is engaged in something important and worthwhile.
If she was going to go look out the window, that wasn't her fault.