The teaching profession is not about landing a secure job with a good pension and long summer vacations. It’s about love. Teachers love their students, love their subject and love teaching. Except to the extent that teaching satisfies something inborn, it is a completely unselfish calling.
Our primary goal is to impart information, encourage critical and creative thinking and, for me particularly, to develop an appreciation for the beauty of language. Opening minds is our true reward. If that were not the case, we could not long endure the regimentation, confinement and stress of handling five classes with well over 100 kids each day.
I recall a day many years ago, teaching completers of verbs to my freshman class, when a boy blurted out, “I understand this! At last I understand this!” Embarrassed, he dropped his head and buried it in his arms. We all laughed and I wondered how many other students had ever had a similar epiphany but never expressed it quite so openly.
Recently, during an exchange on the Internet, I complimented a man for his many cogent and wise analyses of topics. Because Rick’s surname seemed vaguely familiar, I asked if he had ever been a teacher or a student in West Seneca. He replied that he was a 1973 graduate of East Senior High, and proceeded to tell me of a teacher who had instilled in him a love of learning he has carried with him all of his life. When he ended by saying I was that teacher, I was genuinely stunned. Even if only fractionally true, it was a soul-satisfying compliment beyond monetary value.
We teachers are too often haunted with the worry that our efforts are wasted and our words no more than senseless blather.
Long retired, I am no longer actively involved in education. Every week or so, however, I meet with a bunch of guys at a local Wendy’s, where we talk and argue the issues of the day. One of the group is Bob, a gas company retiree, and, at age 68, a kid among us. Having spent his life working, raising a family and coping with the mundane problems of life, Bob never had much time for intellectual pursuits. But recently, Bob has discovered within himself a curiosity and an eagerness to learn.
What an opportunity for me and for Chuck, another retiree in the group who enjoys teaching. Bob has already tackled “The Count of Monte Cristo” on his own, and has asked us to recommend other books. This gives us pause. Reading for pleasure is one thing; the ideal is to gain knowledge, as well. Because history and literature are inextricably bound, they must be understood together. Only in yoking the two can the various stages of the human condition be fully illuminated and understood.
With that in mind, it seems best to break in with American novels that are easier reading and entertaining, such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” Their themes, though important, are apparent and less complex than they are in books we may later suggest, such as “Brave New World” and “Lord of the Flies.” Our intent is to back up to “The Iliad” and work our way forward through the classics. As we do, Chuck and I will try to point out the universal themes, attitudes and other aspects of the novels as they relate to their times and to us today.
Knowing Bob, it won’t be long before he is self-directing. After all, isn’t that what education is all about?
James Costa, a retired teacher, lives in Elma.