So the other day I got a message on Facebook from a former student. She had just finished a placement test in writing at her new college and wanted to message me to tell me that she got a perfect score. I congratulated her and wished her luck this year while also telling her that it’s going to be weird to not have her stopping by my room on a regular basis. At some point during our quick chat, she said, “It’s because of you.”
I share this anecdote not to brag or hoist myself onto a pedestal, but because while I sent a message thanking her, my internal reaction was, “Really?” I mean, I run into students all the time and am even friends with some on Facebook, but our conversations often have to do with catching up on how they are doing since I last saw them or heard from them or maybe something a little more random. Most of the time, I walk away from the conversation feeling glad that I ran into him or her, and there are even times when I’m genuinely impressed by what they’ve been able to accomplish beyond their time in my class.
But over the years I have had a hard time believing that I really had a hand in that person’s success. Their talent and their ability all comes from within and I just get the feeling that if their teacher had been someone different, the results would have been similar. They still would have succeeded and still would have gone on to lead good lives no matter whose classrooms they passed through.
It’s the teacher’s constant existential dilemma–do I really make a difference? Does it really matter if I’m here?
And then there’s the other dilemma–am I allowed to admit that I’m a good teacher?
Now, my internal monologue (as it was) probably just comes from my own feelings of anxiety and oft-bruised self-esteem, and I certainly am not indicative of most teachers out there. And while I usually am proud of what I’ve accomplished, I learned at an early age not to express that pride too much lest I be called an egomaniac. In short, this is my own hang-up that I’m expressing here.
Whenever I read the comments on an article about teachers or teaching, I see people who want to set me on fire or run me out of town. I’m their tax burden. I’m a lazy waste. I’m the source of the problem. Whenever I go on edutwitter, it’s either platitudes in pretty boxes or statements about what I “should” be doing or what I “don’t” do. I’ve even see Very Important Education Thought Leaders get in on the act and advocate all sorts of alternatives to what I do for a living, then claim to be supportive of teachers. Everywhere I turn, it’s a reminder of what I’m doing wrong, and honestly, that gets to me. I think it will get to anyone.
I realize that part of this profession is being humble and that students succeeding on their own is an indicator that they have received an excellent education, but I wonder when that translated into not being allowed to admit that you’re a good teacher. I’m serious here–I’ve never actually said that to myself or out loud because I’ve more or less convinced myself that I’m not. And I’m not writing this to fish for compliments or anything like that, just to say that I wonder if I’m the only person who goes through phases like this, where despite all evidence to the contrary, they think they’re not doing enough or not doing enough the right way.
I don’t wish to take credit for any of my students’ accomplishments. I’ve been fortunate and grateful to teach some amazing young people during my eleven years as a high school English teacher. I’ve also had the misfortune of teaching some young people who were very much the opposite. But I want to be allowed to take the opportunity to look at what I have done or how far I’ve come since I started teaching and say, if only to myself, “You’re a good teacher” and not feel that I’m being arrogant or putting myself before my students. Maybe I’ll earn that one day.