SECTION ONE: Reflections
Preparing for the Encounter:
On Becoming a Teacher
On my very worst days, I wonder if I have learned anything about teaching. I amaze myself at the quantity and quality of classroom mistakes I am capable of making, even after 20 years. I have always found teaching to be a tough profession, full of an ambiguity of results that is truly maddening. But just as a parent loves a bad child, I've always loved teaching. It is so interesting, so difficult, and so new every semester and every class. On my better days, I can see what I have accomplished, and I do not need test scores to lift my spirits. I feel the ambience of a good class; I see it in the eyes of my students. I hear the hum of a finely tuned machine. On my good days, I feel I have made an occupation as difficult as tightrope walking seem as effortless as breathing.
But then…there was that first year! I am sure, among all the teachers in this country, there are some who would claim their first year in the profession was a cakewalk, no sweat. But I have not yet met one teacher who found the first year easy, fun, or rewarding—a learning experience, maybe, but one not to be repeated.
I was once told by a veteran teacher that if you do not make any really stupid mistakes your first year of teaching, consider yourself successful. I have always felt that it takes three years before one can experience, on a consistent basis, the pleasures of the classroom, particularly an effective classroom, which requires so much student participation. The lessons I learned in those first encounters as a teacher still guide me in subtle and not so subtle ways. What follows is the story of one person's first year of teaching.