Not many more nights like this, warm enough to sit outside on the back porch. The kids and Denise long asleep. Usually, during the school year, this is my “time” to catch up on schoolwork–grading, posting the assignments for the week and playing the general catchup game that is the reality for most teachers. I think…
I consider myself a good teacher. I certainly love what I do and what I teach. My school is extremely supportive of “most” everything I do, and it has the resources to help me do what I want to do in class. If I ever feel any angst, it is in the fact that I teach at a wealthy private school that strives to be in touch, but we are not in so many ways. We are working on increasing our diversity; we recognise the various traditions of a myriad of cultures; we teach good moral values; we demand decency and respect in all circumstances, and our pedagogy and curriculum is enlightening, empowering and prepares kids well for…
And that is where my questioning of myself begins. As much as I want to think that I prepare my students for “life,” I fear that in most cases their very access to a privileged lifestyle is all they really need to succeed. I look at my own kids–all doing very well at what they do. I have four in public high school, one in a public college and another who graduated from a public college, and one, Tommy, a 7th grader at my school, but it has always nagged on me that I could not give them what is common practice with my own students who take private music lessons, who hire tutors at any turn or bump in the road, who travel the world and give presentations on safaris they have been on, or service projects to remote villages, or who simply and unaffectedly talk about second homes on the Vineyard, or Nantucket, or St. John–or ski houses in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. They are good kids and not bratty, self important of in any way unkind.
We honor diversity in a staggering way, yet our hands are never dirtied by true diversity. There are no girls. No children with severe handicaps or special needs. We struggle to find the right fit for black and Latino students to bus out of Boston to our wealthy suburban town.
They are simply wealthy and their options in life are blessed and informed by a quiet acceptance of this blessing. Most of us wish we were more wealthy than we are, so perhaps we are in no way better–just unlucky that the fate of our lineage began some mill town or any hard-scrabble homestead around the world.
So I teach, and I sing, and I give lessons and tutor, build things, dig gardens and write and somehow I help create a pretty good life for my family. The irony is that I am always leaving them to give to other kids what I wish they could have.
And I help create a better life for my students. I hope. But it is just strange to me that my life is so far removed from the lives of those I teach. Maybe that is why I demand my students find the enduring universal themes in literature, if only to help them see that they are not special–that no one is special, and we are all inextricably linked by a common DNA of humanity. I entice them with stories of my academic failures, my reckless odyssey through life. I share my poetry and my songs as if it is the only gift I can “really” give them.
Perhaps they will only remember me for teaching them comma rules or how to whittle a bird out of a scrap of pine.