It was a time in my life I had almost forgotten. As I was entering college, I was seriously considering becoming a teacher. Then I had an epiphany, realizing that my low threshold for frustration would make me ill-suited for that profession.
It was one of the few decisions I made between the ages of 18 and 22 that demonstrated any kind of self-awareness. I decided to focus on journalism and English literature, instead. The jury is still very much out, and all kinds of deadlocked, on whether that was a good choice. But I’m pretty sure I got the first one right.
I’ve been thinking about that time lately as I’ve had to become my son’s primary educator, with schools shut down the rest of the year because of the coronavirus.
I always thought I appreciated teachers. But I realize now I still wasn’t giving them nearly enough credit.
As it turns out, given the right circumstance, I can still succumb to frustration relatively quickly. Being older now, I can contain myself, although I still have moments where I get terse and a bit chippy. Keeping a 6-year-old focused, with as little structure he has right now as it is, can be trying. For both of us.
My parents like to tell a story about when I was 6, and I told the principal of my school I was “not attracted to work.” Pretty sure my file read: Spiffy vocabulary. Smart enough to be dangerous. Especially creative at avoiding the task at hand.
Turns out, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
“OK, so you see these words? You just need to write them.”
“Hold on, I need to sharpen my pencil.”
“You just sharpened your pencil.”
“I need to do it again. Then I need to empty the sharpener in the trash.”
“You don’t have to empty it every time.”
“Hold on, I’m just going to empty it.”
Imagine that conversation playing out over myriad subjects while we sit at the kitchen table, locked in a battle of wills.
Then, there’s explaining stuff like counting by two. I tried three or four different ways of putting it. None were very good, but he eventually got it. Then he decided mid-worksheet that he was going to write all of his numbers sideways. Internally, my mind burst like a volcano. Externally ...
“Don’t do that.”
“But I want —”
“Just don’t do it.”
“Dad, don’t get frus-ter-ated.”
The way he pronounces that word makes me smile. Meltdown averted.
He’s completely different when he’s actually at school, according to his teachers. And my wife and I have watched his progression through the year with astonishment. There’s a reason most teachers become teachers. His are great. I would’ve been lousy at it.
I realize this time is hard for the teachers, too. A lot of them won’t have formal closure on the year. Some students they’ve invested so much time and care in, they might never see again. And I know their hearts break for the kids they took special care of — the kids who might have it rough at home, where meals or peace might be hard to come by.
Right now, all I can do is my best and hope I don’t wreck everything the kid learned over the course of the year. In the meantime, teachers, I see what you all do, and I’m amazed. Thanks for doing it, and we’ll see you in the fall.