Rock Star

I got an ovation once. It was at the end of a student show at the end of the term at the international school where I was teaching. I was thrilled, surprised, honored by the ovation. Proud of my students and of myself. The group in the auditorium — students — stood up and yelled, “Martha! Martha! Martha!” But now I don’t even remember the amazing thing they did under my Professor Keatingesque tutelage!

For some reason, for years I was kind of a “rock star” to students. My classes were “not like the other teachers’.” I don’t know how they were different, but… For a while when I walked across campus students would cheer. It’s true. It’s weird, but true. I’m a humble person, and I found it kind of embarrassing and still kind of cool.

I wasn’t even completely aware of it as a phenomenon until, one day, one of my former colleagues at the international school asked me, “How’s teaching at the university? Are you still a rock star?”

That’s when I started noticing it. I also began noticing the way my colleagues looked at me.

We all know teaching is a serious business. Teachers aren’t supposed to have fun and students aren’t supposed to have fun. If the teacher and the students ARE having fun, no one’s learning anything. My experience over the years showed me that teachers are often among the most conventional and unimaginative purveyors of social norms. Thinking about that some more, I began to see that’s what’s expected of teaching. A teacher’s job is to keep the values of society intact. A teacher’s job is not to challenge and provoke and inspire. I began to see that clearly in the response of my colleagues to me.

If students do well in your class and get high grades, you’re an easy grader NOT an effective teacher. If students do Hamlet  as an extended role play, you’re not teaching Shakespeare. If, in a class that lasts 4 hours, your remedial writing students turn out a complete essay, you have failed to teach them discipline.

I viewed teaching as a dance. The students were my partners and we were trying to get through the song with as much grace and joy as we could. I believed nothing was too hard for them IF they wanted to do it. I believed some things that were difficult were so good and so important that they needed to deal with them — but I’d help them. I believed they were human beings, and, as most were 19, they were human beings in search of self not in search of society’s expectations of them.

I’m glad I was a rock star. It’s kind of hard to imagine at this point, but it really happened. And there are students out there — now in their 30s or 40s — who know that some of our best friends are “dead friends” (exist for us between the covers of books) and that the Crossopterygii was our ancestral hero.

14 thoughts on “Rock Star

  1. We had a geography teacher at high school and she was a rock star. We all looked forward to her class, she had that special something that it made us all happy to have her as a teacher. She was something special, leaning with her was fun. She even spoke special, being originally from Cornwall. I remember when she left the school to teach on school cruise ships (yes, she was like that) and she got a standing ovation.
    So you must also have that special something that captures the interest of your students, and not everyone goes to China to discover the teaching world.

    • 🙂 For me learning was always fun and I believe it’s among the most entertaining things a person can do, learn something new. I just failed at being a drudge, I guess.

      • Learning’s always been fun for me too. I’m curious about so many things, and it’s a joy to satisfy that curiosity – always has been. And being able to inspire that kind of freedom about learning is what I’ve always thought teaching was about. What happened, I wonder?

      • I don’t think anything happened. Most of my colleagues thought what I was doing was unpredictable and couldn’t be depended on. I now know that’s because it was out of their reach. They thought I was flakey but that was so far from the truth. People then — as now — are more interested in their opinions than in reality, I think.

  2. It doesn’t surprise me at all that you were a rock star, Martha. One of my oldest friends was a star too, as a grade five teacher long ago when she was a young woman. Unfortunately, she had to constantly fight the Powers that Be for every teaching innovation, even things as simple as having the students sit in a circle instead of in rows. Like you, she was a brilliant, creative, exciting teacher – until she finally burned out from the constant battles.

    She changed careers, and the teaching profession lost one of its finest when she left. In fact, for many years, if any of her former students, now grown, happened to meet her again, they would rush to tell her how much they had loved having her as a teacher, and what a difference she had made for them.

    Intellectual stimulation: apparently not considered a prerequisite for the guiding of young minds.

    • It’s really sad. I always thought if you could make a kid want to learn something, 90% of your work was done. I was also very happy in the classroom and I’m not sure my colleagues were. OH well.

  3. Periods in life like that are all too rare. It’s great while it lasts and at least, for a while, tells you that you have gotten your message to the people who matter to you. I bet you WERE a rock star 😀 You kind of still are.

  4. I had to Google it. Crossopterygii is my new hard-to-spell word of the day. That it pairs up with Coelocanth–hard to spell and pronounce–is just a bonus.

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