From this Teacher’s Family

from teacher familyThe ‘From the Teacher’s Family’ issue is up over on the iTDi blog with posts from Rose Bard, Matt Shannon, and Ayat Tawel.  Each post is a story of what being a teacher does and means to our families.  They are posts filled with the joy that comes when our families know our jobs change lives.  They are also stories of the insecurity that comes with yearly contracts, the loneliness of waiting for a weekend when a partner doesn’t have to work, and the pain of sometimes feeling forgotten.

Each of the iTDi bloggers was given a list of 11 possible questions to use (or not use) during their interviews.  I thought I would simply share those questions here, in case any other writers might be interested in doing a similar post and were stuck for ideas.  But the other night, before going to sleep, my wife Mamico asked me if I would interview her.  I prepared two glasses with ice and took down the bottle of Japanese style whisky we sometimes sip when chatting late at night.  I must have pulled a strange face, because she said, “Don’t worry.  I don’t have much negative to say about you being a teacher.  I want you to know how I feel.”  So here are the 11 questions and Mamico’s answers, as well as the gratitude that comes from people I love and respect sharing their lives and thoughts with me.  Thank you Rose, Matt, Ayat and Mamico.

1) What are three good things about having a mother/sister/wife/daughter who is a teacher?

You’re always thinking about how to teach children.  So the way you interact with our daughter never changes  No matter what she asks you, you always try to give her a thoughtful and serious answer.  And if I ever have a question about English it’s really easy to ask you and I know I’ll get a good answer.  You also always have interesting stories to tell about your day at school.

2) Were there ever a moments in your life when you wished I wasn’t a teacher?

Well, for example, when Luca doesn’t understand something you sometimes try to explain it too well, in too much detail.  It’s kind of the opposite of the good part of you being a teacher.  You take about two steps too many and I’m sometimes thinking, ‘That’s enough, that’s enough, that’s enough.’

3) Was there ever a moment when you were very proud of something I did as a teacher? 

Well, recently, we met one of your students at a music festival.  I remember you talking about that student last year and what a hard time he was having at school.  And during the music festival, while we were sitting together, he was such a kind, and thoughtful, and decent boy.  I thought that you must have had a very good influence on him.

4) How do you think me being a teacher has made life more complicated for you?

When something hard or bad is happening at work, and you are under a lot of stress, I’m thinking about what I can do for you.  A lot of times I realise there actually isn’t anything I can do.  I can just think, “Poor, poor, Kevin.”  It’s not really a problem for me.  But I sometimes feel uncomfortable because there’s not much I can do for you.

5) Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher? 

Oh yeah!  You are a natural born teacher.  You like teaching.  You like studying.  And you believe that people can change.  Even when your students are not ‘good’, you believe in them.

6) What other jobs do you think I could have done or should have done aside from teaching?

Aside from social worker?  Wait, let me think.  You are a very caring person, so you could probably be a nurse.  But you’re a little too forgetful to be a nurse, really.

7) Why do you think I became a teacher?

I think you became a teacher because you wanted to be in an environment where you could always be studying.  I think you wanted to have a job where continual studying would be useful to the work you were doing.

8) Why do you think I continue to be a teacher now?

Because you like your students and you really want them to grow.

9) How would our lives change is I stopped being a teacher tomorrow?

You would be depressed.  And we would be very poor.  But really, I think it would be so boring, for you and for me.

10) Do you have any message for teachers around the world who might read this post?

Thank you for the job you do.  Thank you for teaching and caring for the children and the adults who still believe in trying to improve and learn new things.  Oh, and thank you for being very kind to my husband.  I think he loves teaching because he knows he has the support of so many other teachers.

11) Do you have any message for other family members of teachers around the world?

Please listen to the stories of your family member’s students.  The more stories you hear of real students’ lives, the more you will want to support and cheer on the person who you love who is a teacher.  Actually, the more stories you hear of students, the more you will want to support all teachers.

Ghosts

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Today, March 4, 2014

It suddenly got cold again here in Osaka.  I woke up this morning to find a thin skim of ice on the basin into which our rainwater collects and the sunlight reflecting off the ground frosted white.  I was happy to grab an empty seat so I could sit down on the warm train ride into town.  I was reading over a research article by Nick Ellis on working memory and its influence on language acquisition.  I was trying hard to keep track of the running dialogue I have with an article when deciding how any particular piece SLA research is transferable—or not as the case may be—to my classroom practices, when the doors opened and a young man with stubble on his chin and the hint of a mustache shuffled over to the seat besides mine.  He sat down heavily and thunked his backpack down on the ground in front of him.  I looked at him and slid the Ellis article into my bag. 

     I turned to the man.  He had bags under his eyes.  “Michi?” I said.

     He looked at me.  He smiled.  “Kevin?”

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Today was my school’s graduation ceremony. I was kind of surprised to find eight of my old students waiting for me outside of the ceremony hall after the graduation ended. They handed me a bouquet of flowers. I was a little confused and asked why they were giving me flowers. “Because you’re graduating, too,” Junchan and Nanae said.

I realized they were right. Next year I am moving to my new campus modeled after an AmericanSchool. The International Program I helped coordinate, the one they graduated from, was officially ending. Today. This very evening.

I was a little chocked up. So I tried to change the topic. “So who did you come to see graduate,” I asked. I figured they had come to see one of their friends receive their diploma. “For you. We came to say congratulations to you.” They said it at the same time. Some in English. Some in Japanese.

So I gave up and cried. And said thank you. And, like I did at the end of so many classes I looked them in the eyes and said, “I love you.” And today all that love came back to me. Today, too, I feel blessed to be a teacher.

Today, March 4, 2014

I noticed that around Michi’s eyes, there were flecks of sleep.  His hair, just as it was when he was my student, was a mass of wild tangles. 

              “What are you doing now?  Where are you working?” I had heard he had a job on a farm.  I held my breath.

              “I work over at the dollar store part-time.  And I work in the vegetable fields.”  He pointed vaguely towards the window.  The city rolled by and I felt a little disoriented.  Where amidst the tumble of streets and eruption of office towers in Osaka did Michi go to pick vegetables? 

              “Do you enjoy it?” I asked.  He froze in that way he used to in class when he didn’t understand.  “Do you like working in the vegetable fields?” I asked.

              “Oh, yeah.  It’s good,” he said.  He looked down at his bookbag.  All of the zippers were closed.  There were no stray pieces of rumpled paper poking out.  His shoes were laced up and knotted.  In the two years since he had graduated he had grown.  He seemed like he could take care of himself.

              “Do you have any work in the fields in this season?”

              “No.  Not now.  Now the plants are just starting to grow.  So I work at the dollar store.”

              And then my stop came.  “I was so happy to see you,” I said. 

              “Yep.”  He nodded.  And then I got off the train.

Now

When Michi walked into my International Course classroom for the first time, he was functionally illiterate in Japanese and English.  He couldn’t read or write Chinese characters, and couldn’t get beyond A-B-C in English.  He took part in our first ER classes and read books about Floppy sounding out one letter at a time.  By the time he graduated, he could hold a simple conversation.  He could write a sentence.  But he never did figure out how to put his class notes into a folder.  And he never managed to get above 30% on the standard academic ability tests he had to take twice a year.  At that time, I had just started in my new job.  I had all kinds of ideas of what my students needed to know.  I had all sorts of lines in the sand by which I measured success and judged my students.  I was not always kind to Michi.  I was not always kind to myself.

I sometimes wonder if there is any job quite as bittersweet as that of being a teacher.  Do people working in other professions see the ghosts of their past all around them?  Is every success matched with the ache of “I could have done more?”

My friend Josette LeBlanc recently wrote, “Teaching can be a lonely profession. Often, we don’t have anyone to turn to who understands the challenges we face. Self-care may be the only strategy we can turn to when the job gets too hard.”  She ends her blog post this way: “I want to propose an idea to all teachers: be kind to yourself no matter what happens. No matter what.”  Her words come at a good time.  In three weeks I start my new semester in a new campus and I’m tired of seeing my students as a yardstick by which to measure my success.  I’m tired of hearing only part of what they say to me because I’m always also half listening to the whispers of what I said yesterday or last week or last year.  So I’m going to give it a try, this being kind to myself.  Maybe if I find a way to quiet the voice of self-judgment, even for just a moment, both the ghosts of the past and the bouquets of the present will take on a new hue, will stand out with a new kind of clarity.  Maybe, with practice, they will both reflect the joy of now the same way even the March frost reflects the morning sun.