This weekend, I was featured on the Facebook page of a group that recognizes local teachers who go above and beyond for their students. It was a huge honor and a lovely surprise, and I’ll admit that I teared up more than once at the kind things my principal, my co-workers, and the parents of my former students said about me. What really got me, though, was the wonderful things my former teachers said about me.
I love that we live in a world that keeps me connected to the people who had the greatest impact on the person I am today.
As I read the comments, I couldn’t help but think about two particular teachers in my past. These two teachers stand out in my memory for every wrong reason. They are everything I hope to never be.
The first teacher is, admittedly, the reason I went to the college I id. When my plans to attend my dream school fell through (because apparently, funding is a beast that must be conquered one way or another), this teacher helped me find a new school with a scholarship to cover everything.
This may sound totally selfless, but nothing could be further from the truth. She was totally self-serving and used her students’ success as jewels in her crown. She needed me to look good so that she could look good.
I couldn’t help but think that if she were to have seen the post with my picture on it, she would have commented about how I was always destined for success and that she was happy to play such a big part in it. That’s just the person she is.
When I went to college, I intentionally broke all contact with her so that she wouldn’t be able to leech from my success anymore. We even had a very uncomfortable confrontation about it at some point in my college career when she found out I was still emailing other teachers, but not her. I didn’t apologize or regret it. But I was uncomfortable, nonetheless. I was grateful for everything she had done for me, but I wouldn’t continue to be a puppet playing in her show.
The other teacher who came to mind was very, very different. He made no effort to hide how much he couldn’t stand me. I kind of respect that. And honestly, I get it. I’ve taught students just like me and I can tell you from experience that I was insufferable. But I still found a way to connect with and show love to those difficult students, because I know that everybody is worthy and deserving of love.
This teacher, however, did not share my values. I struggled in his class and I cut up a lot to cover my insecurities. Any teacher who truly cares about his students could see what was happening. Instead, this teacher took a different approach. He accused me regularly of cheating if I made a good grade on an exam. He ridiculed me if I didn’t do well on my homework.
Once, he went as far as to publicly call me out and ask me what I wanted to do after college. When I told him I wanted to be a teacher, he laughed in my face and said, “you want to be a teacher because you could never make it in the real world.”
To say that didn’t hurt would be a lie, but I pretended like what he said hadn’t stung. I spit venom right back. I asked him if that’s what his problem was, then. Could he not hack it? Those who can’t, teach, right? To this day, at 31 years old, I hold that I was well within my right, and the lecture that came after that was worth every second. He was out of line.
I honestly think about that even a lot, and I still can’t rationalize what he said. How was teaching not part of the real world? In my very first job, straight out of college, I was put in charge of a $40,000+budget. Is that not how it works in the business world? I had sit-down meetings with principals during which I discussed projections for growth, recruitment, and action plans to improve my orchestra and its presence.
I was responsible for a program that spanned 4 campuses and I tripled enrollment in three years. I dealt with data and numbers as much as I dealt with student performance goals. I was as much a businessman as I was a teacher.
And all that is on top of writing my own curriculum and trying to find new, innovative ways to engage my orchestras, while trying to modernize my program. And then the obvious caring for my students and making sure their most basic needs were met.
The way I see it, I would thrive in “the real world” after a few years of teaching music. I developed a large skillset that spanned many fields. I could leave teacher and go into any number of fields if I wanted.
Who knows what that teacher would have commented on the posting honoring me this weekend. Who knows what he would think if he saw me today. The unfortunate truth is his negativity left an indelible mark on me, and I’ll never be able to think of him as anything but a hate-filled, power-hungry man.
I’ve made it my goal to teach in a way that honors the legacy of all of the amazing teachers I’ve had in my life–teachers like Mr. Bryant, Mrs. Wheeley, Mrs. Higginbotham, Mrs. Franklin, Mrs. Reeves, and Mrs. Ritenour. But I also make it my goal to make sure that I am never like those two miserable teachers. Sometimes spite is the best motivator.
I hope to never be the teacher my students aim to be successful in spite of.
The Plucky Reader