The love of teaching and the first day of school

by | Aug 25, 2022 | Pop/Life

One of my classes on the last day of school in December of 2021.

It’s too hard for too many to love the first day of school.

I am old enough to have forgotten whether I loved the first day of school when I was a young student or not. I might have been too cool for that then, but clearly, I have changed. 

There is no question that I love it now. I was with some friends on Sunday night this week and one of them asked, “do you have to teach tomorrow?” I corrected her quickly and said, “I get to teach tomorrow.” 

Over the years, especially lately, I have been reading about the way we pay, or more accurately, underpay our K-12 teachers a competitive wage in Indiana. Yes, that is undeniably true. Lucky for me, I teach at a university. That was sarcastic. I’m not getting rich either. 

I am lucky though. I am in a financial position that allows me to choose to do what I love. My kids are grown and out of the house, and while they still don’t reach for the check at dinner, neither of them asks me for money anymore either. My plan is to start softening them up for that beautiful day when I start asking them.

Mister Rogers once said, “the most important people in a child’s life are that child’s parents and teachers. That means parents and teachers are the most important people in the world.” I agreed with that before I became a teacher. Just like I knew I wanted to be a father, my drive to teach just seemed instinctual too. It wasn’t like I wanted to become a movie star or sing at Carnegie Hall. It wasn’t some pipe dream. Turns out, becoming a teacher these days is not the lofty goal it should be.  

Lucky to teach

I’m lucky someone even lets me do it at all. Because of my love for it, my students are lucky too. 

On the first day as a student in my graduate communication program a few years ago, the director of the program opened with this comment: “This will feel like a year’s worth of therapy.” I remember cringing at the thought. That is not why I went back to school, but it turned out to be true. I teach presentations and speech now, and I tell my students the same thing. Learning how to connect with people through communication does feel a little like therapy.

I was at a reunion a couple of weeks ago with my graduate school cohort and that program director was there. I reminded her about her comment and how important it has become for me. She told me she repeats a comment I made at the end of the program to her new classes now too. I had no recollection. 

Apparently, I said, “I didn’t enroll in this program to become a better person, but that’s what happened to me here.” 

America, we really can’t find enough teachers? The mere suggestion is absurd, but it’s where we are. It’s easy to cite some statistics about pay and benefits and competitiveness with other states and do the simple math. But that now feels like fighting over the crumbs on the plate. It’s the wrong conversation. We need to decide whether we care about our children and their futures or not. 

People want to teach. There are few vocations that provide as much personal satisfaction than helping a young person’s world expand. And there are even fewer that are, or at least should be, as valued. 

Experiences to remember

There’s nothing like going back to school and running into my students from the prior year. Whether it is my student from Bulgaria who got stuck in Bloomington for the summer by himself, who is excited to just to see my friendly face, or the two fraternity brothers who are still arguing over who was better in my class, I found myself scanning the crowd for all the rest. 

But nothing matches this one. A student introduced himself in my class on Monday as being from Parkland, Florida. Yes, that Parkland. The assignment was for each student to tell the class something about their hometown. He didn’t mention the shooting, instead choosing to talk about the town’s proximity to the beach.

When he was done, I said to him, “were you there?” He said he was. So, I told him, “I had a student from Parkland last year too.” Then he told me, “I know, he’s the one who told me to take your class. He loved it.”

People should be fighting me for my job. But trust me when I say, if they ever do, that’s a fight they’ll lose.  

1 Comment

  1. R. K. Jones

    Another great column!
    Thank you for sharing with your students and your fans.


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