Artifacts and Detritus

I'm moving to an office down the hallway on Thursday, so I've been packing books and files over the last week. I've also been sorting through things, deciding which things aren't worth the move. I've filled boxes and boxes with recycling and books/journals to donate to our department's "orphan bookshelf." It's been good to purge many of the papers that have been piling up over the years, and I'm determined to do a better job of getting rid of things in the future.

As I've gone through piles and files, I've discovered some artifacts from my teaching past. Some of these artifacts have brought smiles to my face, particularly the notes that my 6th grade students wrote to me in 1990 when I was leaving public school teaching to return to graduate school. I loved these kids, went back to their middle school graduation two years later, and have frequently wondered what they're doing 20 years later. Hard to imagine that they are mature adults who are older than I was when I left their school.

But I've also encountered some detritus that has reminded me about my struggles as a teacher. One of my biggest failures as a teacher was my first semester as a tenure track professor in small town Texas. I knew that my department wasn't a good fit for me when I found the multiple choice test for a literature class someone had left behind in the copy room. I tried and tried to get my students to discuss and think for themselves, but they really just wanted someone to tell them what literature "meant," so they could regurgitate that interpretation on a test. That wasn't the way I taught literature, and I didn't understand the student population well enough to help them adapt to a different kind of classroom. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the majority of the students in my Southwestern women's literature class hated me and the class.

That class reminds me of what it's like to fail as a teacher, and it has reminded me how important it is to listen to our students and try to teach the students we have . . . not the ones we wish we had.

But thinking about that class also reminds me of all the people who have helped me grow as a teacher over the years. So, Rick Hansen, Ruth Jenkins, and all my colleagues who have shared their successes, brainstormed with me, and otherwise taught me about good teaching, thank you.

And may all you teachers have a great year!

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