On the last day of the first semester of my first year of teaching at Watertown Senior High, a girl raised her hand and said, “Can I ask a personal question?”
Curious, I said, “Sure.”
“Why were your hands shaking so much on the first day of class?” she asked.
I laughed and said, “That’s easy to answer: I was scared to death.”
In my 35th year of teaching this year, there were many days that I felt the same fear. There were even a couple days when I parked my truck in the school parking lot, turned it off and took deep breaths to fight off waves of anxiety before picking up my computer bag and walking into the school.
What was it that was so scary about teaching? For me the “fear factor” was caused by the belief that what I did every day was essential to the intellectual development and success of a room full of teenagers. Every day I spent at least 2 hours preparing for a 90 minute class because I felt that the future of civilization depended on it. Delusions of grandeur? Not at all. Frankly, I think that every dedicated educator feels the same way.
Every day I felt the pressure to have the right questions and the right activities because if I failed, I would be letting down more than just my own standards — I would be failing on a much grander scale. I happily accepted this sense of mission every day I taught. But, yes, it did cause my hands to shake from time to time.
I am writing this today because I am leaving the high school classroom after 35 years. I am not retiring, though. Instead, I am moving to a new full-time job at Lake Area Technical Institute where my primary assignment will be to teach photography.
And who are the people in this photo? They are the happy members of my first block Accelerated World History class. I don’t normally take a class photo but this was a special day. And this is a special group.
Why are they posing with their laptops? In my classroom, the laptop was a central tool in the teaching and learning process. More central than the laptop, of course, was the curiosity and the need to learn that my students brought with them when they entered my classroom.
It’s been a great gig at Watertown High School. There is very little about my experience there that I won’t miss.
(Photo by Chris Swiden)