letter to previous teachers

March 18, 2008

Dear Wisco and Sharp:

How did you ever do this?
Wait, wait, wait, let me back up.
I watched you teach for a multitude of hours. The both of you, that is. I watched you look down on 6th graders as though they were lesser beings, not even worth the phylum that was just forming in their little musician/tree brains. I watched you spill out knowledge and advice with the same patience and authority that a nun bears in a ruler, and the sagging eyelids and tight lips were no betrayers of your insistence that things be one particular one.

And the children loved you. I have never seen young people so exuberant around people who treated you such as you both did. Standing in the back of the room, I wondered what could everyone be possibly so excited about when they mentioned you as teachers? It wasn’t that you weren’t correct with your information, or that you were wrong to insist such things, but they way you insisted upon them was…rude, in my eyes in the back of the room. I thought I saw kids almost come apart in front of you, and you wouldn’t even let them. It wasn’t just “no,” it was an almost patronizing and barely sarcastic “no.” You both were firm. You were walls of brick and music and knowledge and you made me hungry.

I’m standing now before my own band, seventh and eighth graders, and wondering how you do it. A former professor of mine tells me I should insist on things more, and I panic, and I think of you. It is scary to call parents because I am worried that they might snap at me like the few before. It doesn’t help that my principal has be ferociously terrified of what the parents think of me because now, when I child misbehaves, I have my words with him or her, and leave it at that. How can I go on like this? More importantly, how can I get to the level of confidence that you possess?

A simple answer: do this longer and do it more. Something tells me that you have worked through hard times yourselves and have found what works, and have insisted upon it. Perhaps I am just too shy about what I want. Perhaps I just don’t know what I want. Often I have approached this question, and often I end up thinking that I know what I want, but not how to get it.

Word comes to me to recently that one of you is leaving the school. I will apply and hope I can fill your shoes, but more importantly, I hope you leave a little residue for me to cover myself in, and maybe I’ll learn something from it.

P.S.- I hate my job. Help me, Obi-wan.



  1. Here’s what I’m telling you – kids NEED structure. They may not KNOW they need it, they may not LIKE it and may gripe and moan and roll their eyes, but their souls crave it and they respond well when they have it.

    Hell, now that I think about it, we ALL need structure to one degree or another.

    Think about it. Knowing where all the edges are – and knowing that those edges are firm and predictable – feels good and safe and secure. There are no unwelcomed surprises, there is no second-guessing. Not having to constantly wonder what the expectations are frees one to work within them and allows for predictable and reasonable consequences for diversion.

    One of the things that I say to my children (both biological and academic) is something to the effect of “it was this way yesterday, it’s this way today, and it’ll be this way tomorrow” (though, to be honest, it usually comes out as “this has been like rule/policy all semester/all your life; WHAT, exactly, made you think that this behavior would be okay today?!”) Having clearly expressed and firmly reinforced rules and expectations covers MY butt, too – I can never be accused of messing with the system out of favoritism or my own personal desires.

    You might have been unhappy with these teachers. You may have found them rude and disrespectful. You learned from them, however, and you want to keep learning from them. Why do you think that is?

    love you!


  2. Start eat bear hearts at lunch and growling.

    Or just realize that the system your in is catering to parents, who shouldn’t have that much power in your setting (and I’m sure this is where I would get flogged by the homeschoolers). You got a degree in it, you teach them, end of story. Any of them protesting get a D. Boom.

    I am still enamored of this idea.

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