Listen. I have just had a shitty day. Not an entirely shitty day, but a shitty last half of the day. It is never very nice to hear that something you’ve done, professionallly, a person would “not ever like to see done again.” It never feels very good, as a professional, to hear that methods you are using for teaching are undesirable. It doesn’t feel good to have another professional critique your performance by saying words like “concern,” “hesitant,” and, to make a long story short, “wrong.”
You know, I never thought I would be a teacher forever. I never wanted to. In the middle of the day I think to myself, “I don’t want to do this forever. I can do it a little while longer, but then I’m out.” But listen, when someone criticizes me and my methods, that’s when I get the most defensive about my ability to work within my profession. I do know what I’m doing. I know how to talk to these kids. If I know anything it’s how to talk to these kids. Not just these kids here in Brazil. But the kids I worked with in New Haven, too.
I got an e-mail from the new teacher of my last year’s 9th graders in New Haven. He said they’re begging to read Shakespeare. My students are begging to read Shakespeare. They’re begging to do that because I was with them the first time and I helped them feel good about themselves as readers and scholars and thinkers. That is my given purpose as a teacher. I need to first help them feel good about themselves as readers and thinkers and communicators, and then delve into the deep things–analysis and whatnot. But I digress.
My purpose and my mission is to help students feel good about themselves in the classroom and to teach them some things in the meantime. If they don’t learn now about responsibility, overcoming challenges, and establishing routine, they won’t be able to be successful in the upper grades. And if I can’t help my students feel good about themselves in the classroom now, I wonder where they will be five years from now when they are in upper level English classes reading advanced British Literature? Lost? Confused? Frustrated?
Maybe I’m using methods and pre-reading activities that another teacher would “never” use. But I know my students. I know how to engage them most of the time. I know how to keep their attention. I know how to talk to them. I know how to help them feel good in the classroom. I know all these things. Why, then, do I feel like a failure? Why do I feel like I’ve done something wrong? Why don’t I feel good about myself?
Teaching is not the perfect profession. There are no right answers because not every student is exactly the same. Not every teacher is exactly the same. What works for one person might not work for another. There are no right or wrong answers. Just yesterday, one of my students said he feels best about being in English because he feels good about his abilities and his grades. This is a student who struggled through all of last year. And now? Now he feels good about himself because of my class? Aren’t I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?
But how do I feel? I feel shitty. I feel shut down. I feel unsure and insecure. Because of one comment. I know what I’m doing. I know that there’s always room for improvement. But the manner in which this teacher spoke to me today made me feel terrible.