Many educators find this statement, originally made by George Bernard Shaw, offensive. Most educators find their daily role so demanding with an under-appreciation from those around them. So if anyone dare say that a teacher “can’t” do anything, they are asking for battle. Perhaps there may be some truth in the phrase, but its usual insinuation grossly underestimates the talents of those who teach.
I was a teacher for nearly 9 years of my young life. I came in as an educator at 21 years old—when life is just beginning as most people would say. I took on a career of which maturity, momentum, and focus was required. I adopted the lifestyle naturally, so I never struggled with identifying myself as a teacher — a leader for our youth. Teaching at the K-12 level involves managing the behavior of 20-30 kids, being mindful of individual student health, academic levels, and family life, aiding the followers and leaders, and loving both slackers and over-achievers. All while developing and delivering effective lessons that meet state and local standards. That, overall, is the role of any average teacher. Knowing content –the being able to “do”—is just part of the skills of a great teacher. A great teacher will make strong efforts to connect with students. Connections that can inspire young people. Many connections are made to gain trust. Through gaining trust of young people, adults find themselves immediately responsible for all that happens to them.
My first class whipped me into shape starting on day one. I pursued a challenging school because I said I wanted to teach students that needed me. I got just that! I did not teach at the most challenging school in my district; however, I was assigned a group of young minds that had seen, heard, and experienced more than the average 5th grader of that time. My days consisted of tears, fights, non-compliance, and concerns with sex and drugs. At times, there seemed to be no end to the drama of any of my boys and girls. Through it all, I found my position as their teacher and made way through all of their priorities to survive life outside of school. During my years working with youth, I have spent weekends on fields and in gyms supporting what parents could not or would not. I bought hair-cuts, field trips, meals, groceries, clothes, and school supplies. I spent evenings in hospitals supporting students of mom’s and caregivers battling cancer. I cleaned up homes of students with drug-addicted parents. I answered calls to kids stranded, and made calls to report negligence. I stayed after school and arrived early to mentor and tutor. I wore mom shoes before giving birth to my own children. I was doctor and therapist without the degree. I felt tiredly fulfilled.
As a student, I was a successful over achiever. I flourished in school. I loved going and staying in any classroom. I took every opportunity to talk with my teachers and learn them. I strived for and achieved every academic award that I possibly could. I avoided sports, but I participated in every academic club possible. My mother encouraged piano, dance, pageants, and talent showcases; I obliged every opportunity and was recognized for my talent confidence. I knew at 7, that I would teach others. In elementary school, I was leading my after-school program as a mini-instructor—playing school with the other kids acting as the teacher and having them captivated for after-school hours in whatever I wanted them to do. Perhaps the teacher’s pet; I looked for any opportunity to lead the others and stay close to adults of the school. Any place where there was learning was my happy place.
For many kids school is their happy place — often their only safe place. I think of my friends and classmates who often seemed eager to be in school, yet struggled to be successful. Could it be that home life was so uncomfortable that school was the only good place to be despite how difficult it may have been to do well? As a teacher, I eventually realized that many of my students could care less about what I was teaching; they just needed to be in my presence. This is where they felt loved and safe; home was not where they wanted to be most.
Often times, people invest perfection in one area of life so that those areas that are cloudy and gray with failure don’t seem so bad. As mentioned before, my school life was successful, but I can identify many struggles in my life outside of school. I struggled socially and often my social atmosphere did not match my honors achievements and intellect. I resorted to many temptations and was challenged in relationships. I did not say “No” to the many things I should have and I secretively tested the waters on things that could have cost me my life or my freedoms. Being the smarty with silent issues ultimately helped me as a teacher. I knew how to get on a level with kids that were having difficulties. I understood the reason for A’s and B’s just as well as I did F’s. I understood outstanding behavior just as well as I did acting out. I was no street thug, but I understood street life. I was able to make myself a great educator because I connected with students on a life level so that I could reach them not only through books, but through their hearts.
When the opportunity came to work as a Community Educator at The Dragonfly House, I found a chance to regain and renew my sense of self in my career as an educator. My job at The Dragonfly House involves teaching abuse awareness and prevention, teaching appropriate relationships between adults and young people, and working to impact our community in becoming better. I am now finally able to combine my “can do” and “can’t do” and create something sublime. This is why I believe that Shaw’s quote is not completely incorrect. In my current place, I am taking my life experiences and teaching abilities (my can do) and pairing it with the heart wrenching issue of which I was not directly a victim (my can’t do). I can explain to any child how to love and protect themselves from the harm of others, which is why I do this. I can’t change their home lives, dangers they face, or the roots of which they come from. Therefore, I teach them empowerment to survive what has or may come. I am just a small link in the enormous resource available to change any child’s life.
I can love, help, listen, and respond to issues that children face; therefore I do.
I can’t accept abuse and negligence of a child, protect every child, or identify myself as a victim; so I teach as many as I can the path to liberation.
Community Educator at The Dragonfly House
To learn more about our Community Education Program or to schedule a presentation/training for your group, visit our website at www.thedragonflyhouse.com/communityeducation or call Sheria at 336-753-6155.