What Ron Clark Taught Me about Being a Magical Teacher (or “Make It Happen: The Importance of Making Memories”)
The Essential 55.
It was the first teaching book I ever bought and was written by him. The American Teacher Awards Teacher of the Year, Ron Clark.
Yes, I watch the American Teacher Awards.
Yes, I was only a junior in high school.
I’ve known since I was little I wanted to be a teacher. When I was seven, I made my own whiteboard out of a white lap-desk and Crayola markers I got for Christmas. It didn’t take long before I was lecturing my stuffed animals on the importance of learning. (My teddy bear was the most out of control student.)
In fourth grade I got a real whiteboard and never looked back.
I look at him and he looks at me. His shirt says, “F–k the Police” next to a picture of a gun. Literally. The u, the c, they’re dashes on the shirt. And it’s funny because I read the shirt as if I didn’t know that “–” stood for those letters. F and K the Police I hear in my mind.
He stands in front of me with a smirk. The assignment sits on the desk in front of me, and he seems proud.
“The gun on your shirt… not so appropriate for school,” I say in front of him and his friends.
“It’s not like I’m gonna rip it off and start shooting people. It’s a gun on a shirt, bro. Don’t worry about it.”
Ahab had his white whale; I have Melissa.
Melissa is seventeen, headed (probably) to the University of Texas and is, by all accounts, wonderful. She wears jeans with stitched designs and cardigans with little woven flourishes. She’s on the executive committee of the Service Club. She makes straight A’s and takes AP tests.
But she can’t write.
His father had died. Cancer. Lung, stomach, bone, blood. Where was it not?
Reached too late.
Mom is surviving. Nothing new. Eleven year-old sister—Patrícia as pronounced in her native español—and a brother too young to remember his father. She was to perform in the choir in twenty minutes. Tenemos solo la esperanza. Ahora, eres el hombre, Oscar.
He surveyed the room with narrow eyes. He was distant then, revisiting someplace that was simpler. Eight o’clock bells and a drowsiness steeped in blocks of text.
“I don’t remember any of my classes here… except this one.”
What is underneath the covers of books?
What sticks? What persists?
The Only Thing I’d Ever Taught Was Swimming Lessons: A Journey Through My First Year Teaching Abroad
I didn’t come to Korea to be a teacher. Well, technically I signed a contract saying I’d teach in exchange for a flight over, an apartment, and a monthly salary, but teaching wasn’t why I wanted to come.
Before Korea the only thing I’d ever taught was swimming lessons. I hadn’t even taken an online Teaching English as a Foreign Language course. I couldn’t see myself as a teacher. And I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t (and still am not) a certified teacher.
But the journey began.
End-of-semester evaluations. I’ve read hundreds of them since I started teaching, but I’ll never get used to them. I know plenty of professors who never read them at all (though I suspect they are lying about this to give the impression of being impervious to student feedback), but I obsess. Evaluations are released to professors the same day final grades are released to students. Back in their hometowns, my students sit in their pajamas in front of their computers, take deep breaths, and click to reveal their final grades. I take a deep breath and click to reveal what 125 students were secretly thinking all semester.
Was I right about this semester? Was it unusually fantastic? Was I in an extraordinarily pleasant, perky, student-satisfying mood every day?
Did I pass my own test?
If meteorologists are to be believed, the current winter we are seeing is among the warmest on record. I find this intriguing because September 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a book length exposé that helped launch what we today call today the “environmental movement.”
According to an informal survey I conducted among students in my first year college English composition and rhetoric course, excerpts of the book are often read in high school AP Environmental Science classes. Since my class serves as a bridge between high school learning styles and college level critical thinking, research, and writing, we looked at some additional excerpts. The study grew out of longer conversations we were having about Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, David Orr’s Ecological Literacy, and Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.
Students kept coming back to the conundrum: What has the parent-and-teacher-and-authority-figure generation been doing for the last twenty-plus years—about the environmental mess we find ourselves in? About the loss of “joy and wonder” in both nature and learning? About chemical farming and pesticide use?
Our class read Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory the second week. Most of the chapters were published serially in the New Yorker; the volume is considered by many to be one of the best autobiographies written. Regardless, when I ask students for their response to the text, Meredith declares Nabokov an aristocratic prig. Paige says she feels guilty for falling asleep near the section where Nabokov explains his avid reading habits due to his insomnia. Katie, who has not missed class since the day she stayed with her boyfriend at the hospital, is still anxious to make up her absence. She mentions several descriptions she loved.
Mano says he’ll never look at butterflies the same way again. He doesn’t even think he’s ever looked at a butterfly.
Fifteen of my eighteen students return the second day of class. “Well,” I say after they’ve filed in. “You are brave souls. I asked you to read an entire book the first day, and you still came back for more.”
Meredith—black and white bow in red hair—raises an eyebrow. Mano leans back in his chair and exclaims enthusiastically, “I like that book.” The students around him titter, and I silently thank him.
Jacinda, a brunette in high heels and jeans raises her hand. “Katie isn’t going to make it today. She sent you an e-mail and called your office but she wanted me to tell you too.”
I nod remembering a moon-faced girl with freckles.
“Her boyfriend smashed his finger in the gate working cows this morning,” Jacinda explains. “They rushed him to the hospital, and I guess it’s pretty serious because he has trouble with his blood clotting.” She shrugs. “I think she’s more worried about missing your class though. She’s texted me three times already.”