I tasted the fear in my mouth- metallic, powdery angst.
The freeways curved before me and I watched the signs and swallowed hard, so far so good. I wasn’t dead or lost yet. I was scared to drive to my hotel in downtown Kansas City. I had looked up directions on Google Maps and painstakingly handwritten the directions. I looked around frantically as the street I was on ended, or I thought it did. It curved and I panicked and went the wrong way. Embarrassed, I turned around and went back. There were a lot more one-way streets but that was okay. I was okay because I had made it off the freeway. I detest, loath and hate the city freeways.
I had especially worried about the knot I had seen on Google maps . Six highways converged into one ball and then all emerged out- I didn’t want to be on the wrong one - going the wrong way because it’s harder to fix than you might think sometimes- kind of a cool metaphor for life there.
At the same time as I felt the fear I was proud of it- proud of myself for doing something I was scared of. I face fears every time I sit down to write, every time I lace up my shoes to run, and every time I start a new idea in class. What if I fail? Sometimes I cave in to those fears (mostly if it involves dancing in public) but I conquer them some of the time. But this fear, this saliva-producing, mind-numbing, sweat-inducing, "Oh God where do I go?" fear- That’s unusual, and I think good for people to experience on some level.
Now I need to get up and drive to a friend’s house in Kansas City, Kansas and guess what?
Yep, I’m scared- somewhere new- and I gotta get on that big highway again- eeek- sigh- let’s do this -
The hardest thing about teaching is, for me, a constant sense of failure. Yeah, so I’m reaching them in that they are listening to me. Yeah, they love me for the most part and it goes both way; I love them too. But my heart breaks for many of them. The ones I can’t seem to help. They have issues. What can I do for them? I feel my hands are tied.
Yeah, most do the assignments I ask of them. But are the assignments hard enough? I want to do more but if I speed up I lose so many. If I ask them to do homework, I lose so many. I don’t want to lose any.
The failure beats me about the head: I’m not teaching enough, I want to help them be better writers, readers, communicators, researchers, citizens, friends. I want them to make better decisions for their lives, learn how to be curious and ask questions, learn that there are some books out there that they will enjoy reading. I want them to want more, more than what our little hometown offers, more than what they think they can do, more than a minimum wage job, more than getting married right out of high school and poppin’ out babies.
I want to them to think about beauty and truth and philosophy and think for themselves. I want them to read the newspaper and know there is another side to every story. I want them to think of others before themselves.
I want them to wonder:
About the stars when they look up
And the plates shifting when they look down.
About how human words cause joy
About why it’s important to struggle sometimes
And why coasting down the hill goes so much faster than climbing it.
I want them to wander:
To the cities where the museums, diversity, and money live
To the mountains where the air is thin, the beauty is free, and simplicity reigns
To the oceans where the sand squishes beneath your feet and the waves echo
To the universities where learning and struggling take place
To the foreign countries where the food, culture, religion, language is strange and uncomfortable
Through the journeys, epiphanies and stories of others through books.
See why I feel like a failure?
There is this constant pressure. Keep ‘em busy, I think. Keep ‘em thinking. Yes, keep ‘em quiet because all heck breaks loose when they all try to talk and nothing gets done. Keep those scores up on the Test. Keep ‘em in the room in their seats.
The status quo is to be easy, to give extra credit so they can pass, to turn your back during the test so that some can cheat, to go light on athletes and on game days, to let some problems lie because mommy and daddy are boosters.
Things I hate:
-the mean students who have everything but want to be “funny” too
-the teachers who say “Are you like your sister/brother? I hope so/not.”
-easy extra credit such as word finds
-wallowing in ignorance, knowing it and being proud of it
-never caring enough about the others around you enough to shut your mouth.
Thanks for listening.
Kim Blevins is a teacher-consultant with the Greater Kansas City Writing Project.
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