What kind of teacher do I want to be?
That's a question I've been asking myself a lot these days. And I've found that the answer applies to all of my other "hats" as well. What kind of adult/spouse/parent/writer do I want to be?
When I think back on my middle-school years, I remember them as some of the most confusing and tumultuous times in my life. When I think about the teachers I had during that time, I realize that I can separate them into two categories: Teachers whose actions/words I had to OVERCOME... and teachers whose actions/words EMPOWERED me.
Of course, there's much, much more to a teacher than those two things, but in my middle-school brain, those were the two things that stuck out.
Let me talk about this in terms of my writing, because my journey to "becoming a writer" took place during these years.
I discovered that I liked to write when I was 11 years old. It wasn't because of anything I did at school, but instead was the result of a simple poem I wrote on my own time. I don't even remember what the poem was about, but I remember that I liked the feeling I got from writing it. It made me feel successful. And then my mom told me it was good. She even bought me a special journal to write more poems in. So... I wrote.
Later that year, my teacher asked all of the students in our class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I suppose she was making a list, because she was writing each career goal down as we said them. There were the standard answers... "I want to be a doctor"... "I want to be a millionaire"... and so on. And one smart guy answered that he wanted to be a "Playboy Photographer". I remember that the teacher was not amused. The rest of us chuckled under our breath. When my turn came, I said, for very the first time, "I want to be a writer". And my teacher laughed. I don't know why. Perhaps she thought I wasn't capable. Perhaps she just thought it was cute. But I never forgot it. Not to give her too much power or credit when it comes to my writing, but I occasionally think of her when I open up my current work-in-progress to being writing... or when I send out a query letter. Because despite her reaction to my dream, I'm still doing it.
That was just one of many things that happened that year that made me feel I had to OVERCOME that teacher's actions/words. Whether it was intentional or not, that teacher fell into that category. I had to overcome her and the actions and words I had experienced because of her. In many ways it was a long process.
The school year that followed that one was even more tumultuous and confusing, largely because I was still trying to overcome what I had experienced the year before. I won't go into details. Suffice it to say, that year is a haze of memories that I don't call up very often.
However, in my last year of middle school I had a teacher who EMPOWERED me. The first day of school, she told us that we would be keeping a journal, and we would write in it every day. Writing, either creatively or for academic purposes, had not been something we'd done in previous years, so it was kind of a foreign idea to most students in the room. But my ears perked up and my heart felt lighter. This teacher was going to LET ME WRITE! All the other kids in the room grumbled about how she was going to "make us write", but all I heard was that in this one class I was going to "get to write" every day.
It wasn't long before she discovered that I liked to write. And in my journal I'd find special notes she'd written to me. Sometimes, when I'd write a poem, she'd respond with a poem of her own. I felt special. I felt smart. I felt valued. I felt EMPOWERED.
This one teacher turned my life around. And that is not an understatement. If not for her, I don't know what I would've become. I went from being a very average student without a lot of motivation, to a kid with intense intrinsic motivation to succeed in the space of about two months. By October of that school year, I was a totally different student... a totally different person. I owe every bit of academic success I had, not only that year but in high school and college, to that teacher. Because she EMPOWERED me. She believed I was smart and talented... she told me I was smart and talented... and because she did, I began to believe it about myself. And I lived it from then on.
My dream of being a writer? I'm making it happen. I may not write for a paycheck yet, but I write. I write because I can... because I love it... and because the writing gives me something that I can't get anywhere else. I became a teacher, and I think it's no accident that I became a MIDDLE SCHOOL teacher. Because that's the point in my life where I was EMPOWERED.
The writing... the teaching... the parenting... it's all become like one big ball of wax to me. So much of what I do... so much of what's in my heart... so much of what I want to accomplish... is all about empowering and encouraging kids. Whether it's the way I encourage my own kids, the way I treat a student in my classroom, or the way a kid who may one day read my books is empowered to be who they are and celebrate it, everything I do seems to come down to one thing: Empowering adolescents.
What kind of teacher do I want to be? One whose actions and words have to be overcome? Or one whose actions and words empower my students? I know I can't be that major empowering teacher in every student's life, but I don't ever want to be the teacher that a kid has to overcome.
I want to be like the teacher who empowered me... the one I'll dedicate my first published book to. Because she changed everything for me.