Saturday, October 06, 2012

Empty chairs at empty tables


(One of my two classrooms at the CAL Building.)

I'm not very good with goodbyes. In fact, I'm terrible at them. I'm overly sentimental and everything becomes rose-colored and there's a point where I just don't want to let go. But then again, yesterday was the last day of classes, and there's a part of me that breathed a sigh of relief (I survived!) and there's a part of me that knows I will miss my students. You can't spend a semester together in a writing class without knowing them as people. And I find people very interesting.

I guess you can't really get into teaching without being idealistic. Many of the teachers who ended up being on top of my list of favorite teachers have always struck me as remarkably idealistic. Sure, it's always balanced by sarcasm and irony, but underneath the bluster, there's a veneer of idealism that you're doing something right and true and great and that it's not for yourself, but for other people.

When I used to work for Habbo, one of my favorite things was the interaction with the kids. Sure, someone of them had personality problems, and the others were just indifferent, but every day was a reason to get up and do something fantastic because our audience was (mostly) fantastic. And I realized that teenagers were pretty funny. I mean, they had issues and problems that weren't totally removed from my own experiences, but they were hilarious and sincere and honest in a way that grown-ups weren't. That appealed to me. It's ironic, really, that in a game where you create your own avatar that's totally removed from who you are in real life, you are much more yourself.

And so one of the hesitations I had when I got into teaching was that there was no more mediation. The avatars are gone. I would be standing in front of real people, a real class, and I had then for an hour and a half. If I get cranky or pissed off, I couldn't turn off the web browser or move to another window. And that concerned me.

In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn't have been so worried, at least when it comes to interacting with kids. Teaching is a humbling experience. And there have always been days when I wanted to dig my heels into the ground and say, "Nope, nope, I don't want to do this anymore." But it's always overcome by the feeling that, okay, there are twenty-odd people depending on me to show up and teach them something, and if there's something I don't like doing, it's disappointing other people. I mean, I can disappoint myself, sure, that's all right because it's just me. But if there are other people depending on you, then you can't not perform to the best of your abilities, because other people need it.

I've always believed that we do not live in a vacuum, that the things we do/not do will always affect someone else. Sometimes, you can directly see the results. Other times, the results are more subtle, spanning days and weeks and years. Human memory is a tricky thing, after all. The more we remember, the more we forget. But I'd like to think (in my idealism) that I hopefully have done something right, that I was able to teach something that my students will remember. And I'd like to think that people will always change - and change is a good thing, because you remember who you were before and you know who you are now. Recognizing the process of change is something that I've not been very good at for the past few years, but then again, I ended up stagnating for four years and it's only now that I'm getting to stretch my legs again. And it feels good.

And if there's something that this teaching experience has taught me (and hopefully will continue teaching me as we go on) it's that I am capable of changing, of experiencing new things, of finding a new spin on things. And I'm pleased that I found great people to share the experience with. At the end of the day, I think I'm happy and that's all that matters.

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