Why teach?!

     So, this post should be classified under “rants about teachers,” or “why do some people go into education?”  And the photograph above is of two young ladies, my daughter Elizabeth (the big one) and my niece Chloe (the little one), two kind and gentle souls, both of whom suffered under teachers who could easily be listed under both classifications.
     Among the many fine and gifted teachers Elizabeth has had the privilege of learning with, there was one in particular who lived, it seemed, for the experience of humiliating my daughter at least once a day.  And, since she was a gym teacher and Elizabeth was hopelessly uncoordinated, on gym days there were multiple opportunities for humiliation.  We weathered many a tearful after-school melt-down on account of this woman, and I went to see her to try and see if there was something that could be done.  After all, Elizabeth  was hopeless at throwing, running, etc., but perhaps, with some encouragement, she might develop just a tiny bit.  We got nowhere.  It was clear that this teacher thought that my kid was a waste of her time.        Needless to say, Elizabeth was not anyone’s choice when it came to picking teams, and when it emerged that   this teacher used this as yet another opportunity to shame her, asking Elizabeth to sit by the wall during team times since “no one was going to pick her anyway”, I went to the Superintendent and let him have an earful.  Things improved.
Enter my niece Chloe, whose classroom teacher seems to have come from the same mold as the above gym teacher. It breaks my heart to hear of Chloe’s classroom days.  I wish I could have her in my classroom.  I wish I could send the following letter to her teacher:

Dear Ms. X,
Somewhere in your “how to teach” classes, perhaps you will have read Jim Henson’s quote about teaching: “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”  I found it in a interview he gave many years ago, and I’ve pasted it inside my lesson plan book  to remind me of the importance of what I do, every teaching day. Perhaps you should, too.  

When you decide to throw  parties for those who have done well on  tests, and make those who didn’t sit outside the classroom, you reveal what you are.  I imagine the children sitting on the bench outside the classroom door, waiting for the celebrations to end so that they can file in, will always remember you for this – and not for the lesson in math or grammar or whatever that you taught for that particular test. When they remember you, and they will – children always remember teachers like you –  they will think of your utter lack of compassion, your ignorance of what it takes to foster a positive learning environment.  They will remember what you were, and shudder.

When you decide that rules are arbitrary, that success in a classroom depends on some mysterious calculus that only you determine, that encouraging and nurturing students is not part of your job description, you reveal who you are.  How sad.  How sad for Chloe, and how sad for you.  As a teacher myself, I know that my kids will remember very few of the lessons I slaved over for their learning lives.  When they come back to visit, and they do, they remember what I was and how their sixth grade life felt because of what I did, day in and day out.  

Kids deserve a positive learning environment. Kids deserve a teacher who is present and engaged – conscious that every action has an impact that ripples across the room, student to student, student to teacher.  Who you are in the classroom matters.   


Chloe’s aunt, a teacher


3 thoughts on “Why teach?!

  1. I tried to post earlier from my phone & couldn't somehow get it to work. Arrgh! This is an amazing post Tara. How can adults use their power to be so cruel! I have stories from both kids and my oldest grandson that make me so sad. Here's to all of us catching those teachers & telling them that they're so wrong.

  2. It's so hard when you or a loved one are at someone's mercy every day. I wonder how Chloe's teacher would react to that letter? Would she be able to become a better teacher or does she really need to leave teaching altogether? I tried to remember if I had had any mean-spirited teachers when I was a student, and no one came to mind. Either I've blocked them out or been lucky.

  3. As I just read your post Tara, I started reliving my teacher nightmares. I think that's what pushed me to the profession. 4th grade, 5th grade- torment! but my mom saved me and I was thrown a life saver in 6th. Now how do we measure for love and passion?

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