Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Hope and Practice of Teaching

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Hope and Practice of Teaching

Article excerpt

I'm writing this on a beautiful morning in early June, just back from my third graduation ceremony of this long commencement season; I have two more to go: my niece's junior high school graduation and a neighbor's kindergarten commencement.

I love commencements of all kinds--from the musty rituals at high church where celebrants in medieval robes and odd-angled hats march in measured rows to the propulsive affairs, hot and wild, where Gen-ADD catapults itself to the stage pierced with flash and color. From pomp and circumstance to hip-hop, I love them all, these warm-weather ceremonies, these springtime festivities.

What I like best, I think, is that whatever form it takes, commencement is always a little celebration of liberation--everyone aflame and passionate, looking forward to taking the next giant step toward a wider world, more capable now, they hope, and more free. I always get a little contact high from all that communicable, dizzying optimism.

There is a bit of a downside to the ecstasy, I fear, for in one way or another every teacher education student during the course of many years has told me this: "I couldn't do all the wonderful things I'd planned and wanted to do this year, because I was only a student-teacher, but next year I'll be free at last!" I hate to be the one to bring them down or to bum them out--to "harsh her mellow" as one student scolded me--but next year, her 1st year of teaching, is not likely to be an experience of freedom. Quite the contrary, it will probably be one of the most entangled, constrained, and difficult years of her life. This is something she, a beginning teacher, may need to know.

What follows is a tiny sample of answers to a simple question I regularly ask graduating education students, those who will soon become classroom teachers themselves: What have you been told you must never do as a teacher? I'm not making any of this up--I didn't have to:

   You cannot smile for the first several weeks of school, or until
      Christmas, or for the entire 1st year. Don't eat lunch in the
      cafeteria. Don't let them walk all over you. Don't let them
      see you sweat.
   You can't be too friendly--don't get attached to any of them.
   You can't hit the kids, of course, but don't touch them either-no
      pats, pokes, taps, jabs. No hugs. Never be alone with a
      kid, and don't give anyone a ride home. No home visits.
      Don't lend them any money, either. Oh, yes, and don't ever
      turn your back on them.

   Don't tolerate any breach of the rules--they're testing you or
      maybe just trying to get your attention. If they're trying to
      get your attention, ignore them completely. If they're testing
      you, get right in their faces.

   Don't allow any disorder in the hallways. Don't let them
      laugh out loud or voice a strong opinion in class.

   Don't swear, don't scream. Don't make threats you can't keep,
      but when you know you can deliver on those threats, write
      everything down, or tape it, or video it. Cover yourself in
      case of a lawsuit.

   You can't trust anything a student says, they're just trying to
      get over on you. You can never trust their parents--What
      are you crazy?--they'll lie to your face to defend the little
      darlings. Remember: Parents are the main reason the kids
      are the way they are, so of course they'll lie too.

   Don't give As first grading period--where can they go from
      there?

   Don't expect too much from them--for example, you won't
      get completed homework from most. Never mind. Don't
      deviate from the assigned curriculum and textbook--someone
      much smarter than you worked it all out already.
      Don't expect any serious work right before lunch or right
      after lunch, or first thing in the morning or last thing in
      the afternoon.

   Don't tell your students anything about your personal life. … 
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