|Colson Hall, home of the WVU English Department|
(Although not as much as I scoffed at those who said they wanted to be teachers so they could be home when their kids got back from school, or because they wanted to have their summers off. Dream on, folks!)
This semester I've heard a lot of buzz about "teacher dispositions" in meetings at the college of education. That's a fancy, euphemistic way of describing whether a student in the teacher-ed program has the personality, perseverance, sensitivity, tolerance, and sheer nerve that it takes to survive and thrive in the classroom.
A few days after my first-grade teacher died in March, I ran into a friend from the college of ed, and we talked about how some people are just born to teach. Even if they didn't have the official title "teacher," that's what they'd be doing in whatever setting they found themselves in. Malayna and I agreed that in many ways, the idea of "training" teachers seems absurd.
Sure, anyone wanting to teach needs as much content knowledge in their discipline as they can get, and also needs to love learning generally in order to convey that enthusiasm to others and to keep up-to-date in their field. In terms of practice, though, while there may be specific tools and skills to be learned and refined, the idea of "training" teachers renders what is at its best an art into something numbingly mechanical.
And my own reaction to the passing of Molly Davis made me reconsider whether "love" really is all you need to be a good teacher.
While I recall some of the knowledge I acquired in her classroom, what I remember most is how she made me and all her other students feel: Noticed. Cherished. Nurtured. And yes, loved. As I told several folks, after hearing of her death, I felt like I'd lost another of those very few adults who loved you unconditionally as a child. Without that deep feeling of acceptance, would I have learned as much? Of course not. And for sure, having an adult who was passionate and excited about what she was teaching, and who never doubted that we'd be just as excited about it, was the best incentive for learning imaginable.
Now, I'm still enough of a realist (or a snob, depending on your perspective) to know that love ain't all that teachers need to succeed. Teachers still need "training," but there is, undoubtedly, an intangible, essential quality that the best ones bring to the job.
So maybe what we need is a different, more specific term than "love."
Jane calls it "school love."
For lack of a better term, I might call it faith. I really think that to be a successful teacher, you have to have a core belief that what you do matters, that all students can learn, and that education is the key to enlightenment and opportunity. Which is not to say that teachers won't have crises of that faith. And certainly, there will be many experiences, and students, and administrators (especially administrators!) that will regularly challenge that faith.
In the weeks after Molly's death, I heard a couple of songs that seemed apt, not just for her, but for all the other hardworking teachers out there. This one by Earth, Wind and Fire especially caught my ear with its opening lyrics:
Through devotion, blessed are the childrenSo on this Teacher Appreciation Day, let's praise our devoted teachers, and help them keep the faith.
Praise the teachers that bring true love to many.
Your devotion opens all life's treasures
and deliverance from the fruits of evil.
(Oh, and if you're in Ohio, you might consider signing the petition against Senate Bill 5 being circulated by the group We Are Ohio.)