Tomorrow and Tomorrow
In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could have.
Twenty-seven years, maybe two dozen institutions, literally thousands and thousands of students: that's my claim to a worthwhile life.
All manner of place: great lecture halls at enormous, public universities; abandoned shopping malls, where fly-by-night schools shared space with homeless men sleeping in the corridors; prison; beautiful corporate facilities; for-profit little schools in urban ghettos; private colleges with perfect students and back-stabbing, if quite friendly, faculty; big and small community colleges; even a private little K-12 school. I've run hundred-mile circuits in a single day, teaching in different cities just so I could make ends meet.
I've taught more subjects than I can sometimes recall: math, from arithmetic to differential equations and everything in between, including developmental math, remedial algebra, probability theory and statistics, the calculus, and drafting math; managerial finance; real estate finance; economics; financial accounting; marketing; paralegal; business law; transcription and proofreading; learning study skills; English grammar and composition; computer software skills; keyboarding; court reporting; psychology; sociology; and Western civilization. I've been a director of education and a dean (at the same time, and at the same time I was teaching at the school).
I've had stunningly bright students, thunderously stupid ones, and countless thousands in between. My students have ranged in age from five years to almost eighty: "normal kids" and whole classes of the "learning disabled," which once included in a single classroom a quadriplegic, a couple of epileptics, several TMJs, a handful of dysgraphics and dyslectics, and some who, in a later era, might have been diagnosed as autistic. I've had my chops busted for nailing star athletes for cheating; I've had my throat slit by administrators who didn't like my style; I've had parents, spouses, and friends ruin students' hopes of achieving academic dreams; and I've seen people I wouldn't have bet a dime on succeeding walk up to get their diplomas.
Students have broken down, sobbing in my arms, and former students have given me firm handshakes years after I last saw them.
I've seen students on their way to nowhere, and I've marveled at kids on their way to the stars.
I've bemoaned hot-headed boys and crazy girls more interested in their soap-opera lives than in their homework. Oh, yes, and I've run across the occasional, albeit rare, post-adolescent female looking for a rather less-than-academic relationship with a male authority figure, and I've had occasion to encounter a few young gentlemen rather too timid to say much other than to discreetly let me know they were gay.
On streets near campus, I slept in my car through a brutally cold Winter in the Midwest and crashed in the cockroach-infested basements of rooming houses, all because the pay for non-tenured college teachers comes with a choice of food, soap, and clean clothes or a comfortable place to live. I've bummed money from caring friends; I've worked side jobs; and for more than twenty years, until my body and veins were too weary to do it anymore, I sold my blood plasma twice a week.
I've watched academia flop from one pop fad to another, and I've seen excellence in teaching beyond what I could ever hope to attain, myself.
In my life, I've been many things; but alwaysalwaysI've been a teacher.
For all I know, this will be my last semester at the college that has kept me for the past few years. I have no guarantees. If the truth were to be told, I'm going to start wearing out my welcome pretty soon if I don't move on voluntarily. That's how it's always been.
In the morning, as is my unfailing way, into the classroom I'll stride, the swaggering, angry professor, the harsh, loud, in-your-face, bad nightmare who wouldn't mind flunking everyone on the roster. Unfortunately, at least some of the students will know the whole thing is a scripted act. Reputation precedes a teacher no matter how loudly he tries to shout it down.
Nevertheless, I'll be out there in the spotlight one more time, voice raising to a yell, then nearly vanishing into a whisper, long hair flying, arms waving, fingers pointing, eyes staring right at students, then straight through them into the vast depth of material I know and that I am inviting them to know, too.
I might have to move on, soon, I think. I'm getting old, and that should bother me, but it doesn't really. There's always a gig somewhere. It might not pay much, it might be a long ways away, and I might not even make it there. All of that is okay, though: every day of my professional life, I've been turning the page, anyway. That's just how it is when you cannot live your life anywhere but in the spotlight. It's the best place imaginable for those of us who want to hide from the wasteland of our own failure to be anything other than the object of high, rhetorical praise.
Again, though, whatever.
I am a teacher. That's what matters to me. More to the point, that's what matters to the future.
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