Clarification

In the interview room yesterday, the enthusiasm for teaching, for our students, was palpable. If we get the award, it’ll be because we’re a community, because a significant percentage of us — teachers and administrators — really care. It’ll be because we talk to each other, and try to think of how we can help our students in non-traditional ways, and work together.

I hope I didn’t imply disdain for the Ivy League schools in yesterday’s post. I do think, sometimes, how esteem-boosting it would have been to have applied for and been accepted to Harvard or Colombia or wherever brick and ivy twine together in academe. One of our faculty members got his English MA from Harvard, and the students are awed by it. “He’s really smart; he went to Harvard,” I hear. They know the buzz around the big schools. There’s cachet in being from an Ivy League institution, whether as a student or a faculty member. And I don’t doubt if I taught there I’d probably like it. But I love my place of work. I love my students. I love the sheer, bodacious diversity of them: Mexican, Native American, Asian; displaced workers, returning homemakers, high-school-in-college students; a seeing-disabled girl with her best friend, a guide dog; my deaf octoganarian of a few years back; the athletes and the seasonal workers bending their heads together over a group project. Most of them probably couldn’t get accepted at the state university, let alone the Ivy League system, not for lack of intelligence in many cases, but because of cultural or economic status or language issues or life changes or whatever. But they come to us and find dedicated teachers, small classes, individual attention. We accept them no matter their age, their educational background, their basic ability level. We accept them if they didn’t make it the first time around. Or the third. And I like being a part of the place of second chances.

All teachers, as Loren said, deserve to be proud of what they do. I know I could never teach high school, with the conflicting demands of legislative mandates, like the benchmark tests in my state, and parents who don’t understand or appreciate or support what the teachers are doing. High school teachers juggle unreasonable class sizes and kids from backgrounds that can make it hard for the youngsters to learn. They face apathy and outright hostility to education. They suffer the hormonal mood swings of their adolescent charges, or the pain of watching their young teenage girls show up pregnant, or seeing one of their kids hauled off to jail for drugs or guns. In Zeke’s small choir class, three of the girls are pregnant — and it’s only 10th grade. Several of her male classmates have been dragged off to “juvie.” And she goes to a school in a fairly affluent small town, mostly white middle-class kids. Imagine the challenge in a poorer school district.

Teaching in an Ivy League school would be a different kind of challenge, given that the university level demands ongoing evidence of one’s achievements. “Publish or perish,” they call it, at least until you have tenure. I’ve published. I’ve presented. But I don’t have to. I can dedicate my time to teaching, which is what I love. If I loved research, I’d want to be at an Ivy League school, but I prefer the interaction with students, the deep immersion in issues of the classroom. In the end, teaching is a worthy profession, however and wherever you do it, as Loren said. But for me, being the kind of person I am, teaching at the community college level  suits me in ways teaching at other institutions would not.

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