Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Dreams and sweat

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Things were more loosey-goosey back then. What I remember is that he was there for just a week or so before announcing he had to go to a funeral or something, not just across town but out in Idaho or Montana, halfway across the country. He'd be gone for a couple days. 

Must have been a long funeral. He didn't get back for a month--which meant I was stuck with his students--me, the student teacher. His leaving me alone like that would be unthinkable today.

I must have been cocky because I don't remember going pink or anything. He told me what needed to be done, and the task must not have seemed particularly daunting: teach high school juniors and seniors something or other or speech and theater--theater history. That was a half century ago.

I didn't need a supervisor to know I was doing okay as a teacher. I knew I was okay because students thought I was okay. Their attention, their caring, clearly registered. By the time the guy came back, I'd learned what student teaching should teach--that I could do it and like it.

Six months later, when I stood in front of my own classroom for the first time, I was more nervous than scared. I sort of knew that teaching was something I could do. 

It became something I did for the next 42 years. Only twice in that time did I consider leaving the classroom, and not once in all that time did I feel trapped; and, for 37 of those years I was in the same place. You'd have thought I'd rot. I don't think I did.

For some reason, it's not easy to type out this sentence, but I'm going to: I loved teaching.

Did I know that going in? No. I had to learn to teach and learn to love it.

Carol Dweck, a psych prof at Stanford, claims that one the phrase "find your passion" appears nine times more often in speech and writing these days than it did a quarter century ago. "Find your passion" has become, she explains, the clarion call of career councilors, who tell kids looking for a place in life that finding a profession is something you'll know when you see it, something, well, like falling in love.

Dweck and her research buddies claim that's hooey. People get good at something, become experts, not by some vision, some unsolicited epiphany. Interests develop by use and experience. Passions bud and flower from curiosity and plain old experience. I think I learned to love teaching by teaching. Whether or not teaching was "in me," was less determining than my standing up there, day after day, having to get the job done. 

In those early years, we lived just a few blocks from campus, close enough to walk, which I did, often with a colleague and friend. We were both young, both writers, both people who loved literature. More than once as we were telling each other stories about what had happened that day in the classroom, one of us would bring it up. "Just think," we'd say, snickering, "we get paid to do this."

Not much, but a salary was icing on the cake. 

I think Professor Dweck is right: Loving teaching, at least for me, was not an instinct. I learned to love it. I found my passion by going back, day after day, into the classroom.

Passions aren't discovered; they're developed. 

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