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Shannanigan's Search for More...

For the Love of Work

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I had started to worry a little about myself and my love for teaching at the beginning of the semester, because I began to notice how annoyed I was becoming with my job at the Writing Center. Perhaps it was the fact that our center kept getting handed off to new directors and nobody wanted to take charge. Perhaps it was the fact that a woman who was not in charge of our center kept trying to tell us what to do, not knowing that some of the things she was demanding were obvious wastes of energy to us. Perhaps it was that my paycheck was taking forEVER to come in. Or, perhaps, and this is the only one I feared...perhaps I was growing tired of helping students write essays.

*gasp!*

I didn't want that to be the case; I love writing, and I love helping students! Combining these things should be heaven to me. A future English teacher should be LOVING this job.

But, I wasn't. I was dreading it. I was sighing when students came to me, and finding excuses not to be in the center. Even students who were genuinely seeking help and very receptive felt like burdens. Why?

I recently took on another job on the weekends teaching SAT preparation courses to high school students in a Learning Center. I LOVE this job. The kids are determined to do well; to go away to big colleges. They're intelligent, they have personalities, and I get to see them repeatedly. What's better, I get to set my own curriculum...set my own pace and use my own methods to teach these kids to the best of my ability. I get to work with them, and I am their go-to girl. I am their resource. I am their teacher. I LOVE going to this job; I show up early, I stay late, I work on lesson plans in my free time during the week...I'm so EXCITED to be there!

And I think I see the difference. When I work at the center, I'm basically subject to each professor's parameters. A student comes in and says that their professor wants them to answer these 6 questions in a 2-page essay, and I have to bite my tongue and not say that it is nearly impossible...I need to work with the students and do what I can. Students come in with unclear instructions or simply not wanting to follow them because they feel it cramps "their style," and I, often not even knowing the professor, must fight to defend the professor's intentions and wants. Now, this may seem miniscule...it should be simple enough that I can tell students "look, you want to get a degree, you need to pass this class, and if you want to pass this class, you need to conform to the professor's wants," but often the students wind up briging arguments or questions to ME that they really need to bring to their professors...and when I tell them to, they don't want to. They're scared of their grade. So, basically, they are using me to vent because I'm not grading them.

And the difference is, with the SAT class, I try my best (and I think I succeed) in creating a relationship in which students can ask ME or argue with ME if they have an issue with something I demand of them. I am the planner of the assignments, and I usually catch my own mistakes, and if not, I trust that my students aren't scared to point them out. What's more, I see these students repeatedly, not just once for them to get help with some foreign assignment; I see these kids every weekend and their questions are almost always ones that I can answer, because they are on topics that I am teaching. They're not coming on once, with a paper on some topic I've never heard of, to get help and leave. They're coming in again and again to slowly learn and grow and DEVELOP their knowledge...not get their problems all solved in one shot.

Thankfully, I feel happy knowing that teaching will be more like this second job, and that probably means I will enjoy teaching a lot more than the Writing Center job. Still, I want to try to regain the love that I had for the Writing Center when I first started...that passion I had for helping people, no matter what the problem was. Hopefully, that hasn't "burned out."
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  1. mtpspur's Avatar
    I was reading your blog entry and the Looking Ahead one and been thinking about it a day ot two. To be frank I find you enthusiastic and talented and caring and kudos to the Learning Center.

    But - - -

    One of the greatest teachers I know in this area and a personal friend of mine I have a severe disagreement in the nature of students. Her philosophy is that she would rather devote her energy to 30 students that WANT to learn then work on one who is a 'Problem' or 'struggling' child. I could be wrong but I sense you like the positive feedback to your efforts just a wee bit t-o-o much compared to the less stimulating job of the writing center. If I am wrong I sincerely apologize but my two sons did not even attempt to do well in high school (for which they richly deserved their varied punishments) but what always dismayed me was the 'flush' mentality used in expelling them. They definitely received the attitude that the teachers could not be bothered to deal with them because they had more promising things to do. You're young and I sense this deadly disease forming in you already. I've read enougn of your posts to care whether you succeed or not but sensitivity to any and all students should be paramount. Very glad to hear you worrying about burnout. Do your job--appreciate the results but don't live off them. You become like a church that's more interested in numbers then quality and a good shepherd tears up the countryside looking for the lost lambs.

    With great respect because I do firmly believe you have a bright future ahead--Rich
  2. Shannanigan's Avatar
    Thanks for that, mtpspur

    I do, sincerely and honestly, want to help any and all students of all attitudes and abilities. In fact I take personal pleasure in helping students who are normally unmotivated to get motivated about learning...no matter what the topic. It doesn't even have to be Englisjh.

    I am enjoying the weekend classes, and a part of it is definitely due to the students' natural enthusiasm and motivation, but I really think the bigger part is that I just enjoy being able to write my own lesson plans and teach in a way that I find effective, rather than having to tutor a different student every 30 minutes under a different professor's idea of effective teaching. When I do start teaching, I'm going to be at a public school here known for high drop-out rates...and while I'm not saying I'm going to be able to make a huge dent in that rate personally, I do hope to reach some students each year in a way that encourages them to stay in school. I hope that by being able to design my own classroom atmosphere and teaching style, I will be able to figure out how to motivate the normally unmotivated students while still encouraging the motivated ones to keep up the good work.

    The style might have to be different in a classroom of "problem" children rather than these college-bound seniors I teach on the weekend, but again, it's the prospect of making a difference in my own way that attracts me.

    Appreciate the concern The voices of parents who know that their children weren't angels are important to me...because those are the parents usually willing to work with teachers to figure out a way to help.
  3. mtpspur's Avatar
    I was delighted by your response and I feel vindicated in my regard for you and relieved that the fears I had for you were of little substance. My one son (Dan) is well on his to a degree (having dropped out and joined the Army etc etc and the other Jim is finally starting some college work. Both were the infamous Good Enough Diploma recipients and both relaize now how very short sighted they were. I think you'll do well. The problem children need to be pointed to the future that 'this' life is transient and it does go on and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Glad to be proven wrong about you (as I had HOPED I was). Will be looking forward to following your career path.

    For the record I felt well supported by the High School VICE principal but blown off by the principal. Fairborn definitely uses the flush system and I have no qualms of saying it. In fairness there have been some politics /treasury problems going on that have contributed to the morale problem but the children should be put above that and not used as bargaining chips. I don't deal. Neither here nor there now as all three are out now. Hope this helps. Rich