I don’t have much contact with former students and don’t much want it. Most of my students were OK, some of them were fun, some were astonishingly great, some of them were unspeakable monsters. But teaching is a kind of transactional relationship. It’s a calling for many people. For me it was a calling, but in reality it’s a bunch of people (remember I taught college and university writing and business communication) who pay some money to learn some stuff they hope will help them earn a living when they’re finished. They pay. The teacher is paid in turn to teach them something useful to their future lives.
What that might be, however? That’s a big question especially when you aren’t teaching hard skills but soft ones.
You sign up for “a world of pain” when you sign up for this. Last night, for some reason, I thought of all the really horrific experiences I had as a teacher that included being pushed up against a wall with a student’s hand on my throat. I wondered why I was remembering this of all things in a world that’s scary enough as it is. Then I realized that it’s because a student emailed me a couple of days ago.
She is from Iraq. Her family refugeed to the US during the GWB war. She was young, 19. She was in my critical thinking class at a community college. She was aggressive and arrogant (defenses?). One day, as we were starting Fahrenheit 451 she said, “Why do we have to read this? It’s boring.”
Her whole strategy for going to school and approaching life, her whole feeling toward existence, all of that was encapsulated in that question. She was going to endure life by rejecting it out of hand. That would teach it.
I looked at her, kept my composure, and said, “Because it changed the world. You need to know what it says or you’re going to live in a future just like that. How far are you?”
I laughed. “Keep reading. Every book is boring two pages in.”
She kept reading and her attitude changed. Her attitude toward EVERYTHING changed. She never stopped challenging things, but she didn’t challenge me in that way again. She needed someone to stand up to her. She loved all three novels we read and saw herself as Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth, driving her car out of The Doldrums to conduct the orchestra of Chroma the Great.
We’ve corresponded off and on since I moved here. She finished her degree and has done a lot of traveling. I think for her, now, life is a journey. She wrote about her most recent trip which was to Iran;
“What I enjoyed the most, was the fact that I was walking on land where the Persian Empire started. Every step I took was a step in history every building I entered some famous scholar once sat their to conduct their studies. That to me was so powerful. It is as if you are walking in the past but right now. I don’t know how to really explain it. If you have ever stepped in a historical place you might know what I mean.”
And that, folks, is why I put up with everything for so long.
And, as I post this, this song plays on Mohammed’s Radio: