Teaching is rewarding – just not right away
Stevie and I hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye.
Last year he spent most of my lessons on his phone. Six months ago he threatened me when I gave him a detention. And in a recent assessment, he had written half a page of nonsense.
I dreaded teaching him
What was the point ? We had studied a subject for months and he had learnt nothing.
After seeing the result of his assessment, Stevie’s mother got in touch. Her email was calm and polite, but she was concerned for him.
I could have insisted that I was doing everything in my power. I could have made a half-hearted promise to help him out a bit more in lessons.
Instead I agreed to see him once a week for half an hour after school.
I don’t know why I suggested that. I didn’t think it would help much, but curiosity made me see what could be done. And besides, it pleased him mum.
But I wasn’t expecting what happened
It was our first session, and Stevie showed me his work from that afternoon’s lesson. He’d been given twenty minutes and had only written one sentence.
“I just don’t get how to do it…”
I’d heard this from Stevie before, but his voice sounded different this time. Gone was the tough front he usually put on in lessons. After school, on his own, he sounded just as frightened as his mum.
He went on to describe how hopeless he felt sitting in front of a blank page while his peers wrote effortlessly around him.
A few weeks earlier I’d watched QT8, a documentary about Quentin Tarantino’s first eight films. One of the talking heads mentioned how Tarantino won’t use a computer, preferring to write his scripts with a paper and pen which he calls his ‘antenna to God’.
I don’t know what prompted me to remember this at that moment, but I told Stevie about it.
He looked confused for a moment. Then he spoke. “Because ideas come from…? Oh!” He smiled, realising what I had meant.
“Ideas will come to you as you write. You don’t need to have it all in mind before you start.”
This concept, which I took for granted, had never crossed Stevie’s mind. He thought that every word, sentence and paragraph had to be clear in his head before putting pen to paper.
No wonder he didn’t write much
So, Stevie began writing a sentence. Then a paragraph. And then a page.
Two pages later, he stopped, sat back in his chair and stared at the words in front of him. He smiled and in a voice that sounded like a boy much younger than his 15-year old self he said, “I didn’t know I could do that.”
I’m sure you’ve seen the teacher recruitment adverts on Sunday night television. The ones designed to entice office workers suffering from Sunday night blues. They show a group of enthusiastic students stood in awe of a Bunsen burner, or shy students smiling when they’re praised at parents’ evening. They make teaching look fantastic.
Which it is. Just not at first. When I started teaching, I’d assumed this sort of result was achievable in a few weeks. A couple of months at the most.
It had taken me five years
Five years of persistence.
To learn how to be generous with my time.
To learn how to act when I didn’t want to.
To learn how to properly listen to the needs of students.
And to learn the knowledge needed to address those needs.
I had failed and been embarrassed countless times over those years. I had wanted to give up. But after seeing Stevie walk out the classroom with an uncharacteristic spring in his step, all that toil felt worth it.
It might not take you five years, but it will probably take a lot longer than you think. Teaching is as rewarding as they say, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be glad you chose to do it.
Just don’t expect it right away.
Stevie is not the student’s real name