Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Decade's Enough

Yesterday I taught ... er, "taught" ... a day's worth of middle school drama classes.  Despite the fact that I've had virtually nothing to do with drama, save playing in pit orchestras, since high school, the classes went surprisingly well, and I couldn't help thinking--and posting on FB later--how I think I could actually make a pretty adequate drama teacher and really enjoy it.  However--and this by way of a combination of, 1, accolades for teaching I've received, 2, pressure to improve and improve, and, 3, my own uncertainty regarding my actual (not perceived) teaching abilities--maybe it's best that I'm done with the classroom.  Not to compare myself to the superstars (they're just the most readily available and recognized examples, though I'm sure I know a deaf dinosaur of a science teacher who would similarly qualify), but consider Michael Jordan and/or, oh, I don't know ... Paul McCartney.  Okay, maybe they're not the best examples; though the attempted returns after "retirement" or the general demise of their groups--in other words, though they didn't exactly "go out on top"--they're still better remembered for the remarkable--astounding--achievements from the height of their careers.  I don't think I ever taught like Jordan played ball or like McCartney wrote music.  Yeah, I'm a good teacher.  Yeah, I'm good with kids.  Yeah, I love my subject.  And, yeah, I think I've done some good stuff.  If I leave now, am I leaving at the "top of my career"?  Were I to stick around, would I get all beleaguered in the bureaucratic demands of the profession and crack?  While pushing for my own ideals and maturing past the recklessness that marked (more on that in a minute) really quite a lot of whatever was called "good" or "great" about my teaching and education achievements, would I lose that spark/fire and just become some zealot slave driver, beating down the kids claiming from atop my beat-up soapbox that THIS STUFF IS IMPORTANT AND WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU KIDS THAT YOU WON'T DO IT!?  I've felt vestiges of that....

More than halfway through my first year teaching in Saginaw, Michigan, a student returned to class with reportable news he'd overheard while awaiting a sit-down with the counselor.  "Mr. Center," he said, "They're calling you a lose cannon in the office."  Though inclined to take offense--and truly my hackles went right up--I was eventually, actually, pretty okay with it.  Not that the office might not be satisfied with my methods (to which they were referring), but that the results thereof were enough to garner the attention that recognized I was doing stuff differently.  I could justify everything I did against the state and district curricular requirements.  Kids were enjoying classes.  Kids were performing well--significantly better, in fact--on tests and, my personal favorite, were winning more creative writing competitions than ever their grade levels had (and many accolades to my brilliant successor, who has improved still upon those marks!).

I've always been guilty of flying by the seat of my pants--of "faking it 'til I make it" --and I'm coming to realize (because that's EXACTLY what I did yesterday with the drama classes and, again, they went really well) that the desperation and enthusiasm and my own personal excitement at the discoveries thereof....  But you can't do that forever.  Eventually, the "lose cannon" thing becomes routine which becomes easy from which eschews nothing surprising or exciting or terrifying which results in boredom which leads to everything that's bad about teaching, not least of which is an over-structured/under-creative environment certainly for students but, more importantly (yes, really), for the teachers.  I've said it before: any significant success I've had as a teacher was not because I'm an expert "teacher," but because I'm flipping crazy-excited about my subject, really know my subject, happen to be good with kids, and share everything I discover with them.

No way would I be able to do that forever.  Right?  And doesn't the death of a teacher who remains, zombie-like, in the classroom do more damage than good?  Sheesh -- maybe it's good they don't pay teachers well enough.


  1. Don't worry! I'm sure that I was called worse things than that by that office around 8th or 9th grade! :)

    You're a great teacher. I'm sure that you'll be a great lawyer, too.

  2. It was a funny moment. I mentioned what he (Devin -- thank you for the report) told me to the class and there was an almighty uproar, though, really, it was true.

    I wonder if it's the the open-ended hours I've got subbing or the fact that I'm going to law school that is leading up to all this personal existentialism....