The Teaching Student? Or the Learning Teacher?

I was a terrible student. I say this with endearment to my younger self and all her strivings, but really, it’s true. I wasn’t bad in some of the traditional ways – I never complained about workload and I was (almost) always interested in material. As I write this, I’m wondering what my past teachers thought of me at the time. Wondering. I don’t exactly want to know.

What’s brought this to mind is this:

Teaching has shown me what a bad student is.

I’m taking a grad school course on teaching strategies. We meet one weekend a month and talk classroom management, attention, relationship, and how-tos, and these three and six-hour classes have taught me something about myself. I am not a natural student. I hate sitting in those awful chairs and not talking for so long (shocked?!). I try my darnedest to read the textbooks because really, they’re pretty interesting, and I love that I can walk into my classroom the next day and implement what I’ve learned, but it’s not so easy to put down Percy Jackson or Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss.

In high school and college, I doodled. I sang songs in my head (yes, I admit it). I talked a lot and in my defense, it was often on topic, but I was more concerned with getting people to laugh because I was dying inside. And my behind was numb. I wrote out my week’s schedule because even THAT was better than listening sometimes, which is so strange to me now. I had absolutely wonderful teachers for the most part. They were engaging, passionate about their subjects, and always encouraging. (Of course, I am omitting those few teachers who stood out like sore thumbs and made me raging mad. Those are in a different category.)

So what is it about being a student that makes me so utterly different from who I want to be?

I had a music professor in college who used to laugh and say, “Students are the only consumers who are glad not to get what they pay for.”

And we would smile with embarrassment and recognition because it was true.

I have just spent the last two days writing a poetry unit for eighth grade. I wrote an integrative paper and a unit introduction (which doesn’t exist in the real world, but it does in grad school). I have had roughly three months to complete these assignments, and while I have been subconsciously thinking about them all along and I did write a lesson or two last month, I couldn’t wrap my mind around such gargantuan work before it was crunch time.

Friday night I will be sitting in my last weekend of this class, wondering what my family is eating for dinner, what my cool friends are doing while I lamely discuss the ethics of teaching and the future of education. I say lamely because I’m embarrassed by how interesting I find these topics. It’s the Friday night discussing of them that makes them a little less cool…

I will be tempted to lean over and whisper a joke to my friend because we have the same sense of humor and we are hi-larious.

I will be tempted to do this while the teacher is talking.

But then I will remember: Standing in front of a classroom of 9th and 10th graders, frustrated at their lack of attention, their inability to engage with me or the material, and their OBSESSION WITH JUSTIN BIEBER.

I will remember these things, and I will refrain from whispering. I hope my professor acknowledges my amazing self-restraint and gives me a gold star.

Because, really? I do want what I paid for. I want to be good at what I do and (even) to be good at learning it. Being a student again gives me both compassion for my current Latiners and for my current teachers – a very strange place to be, indeed.

[Photo: UGL_UIUC]

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