Teaching’s Greatest Reward

I’ve been out of the classroom and into education bureaucracy for six years now. And yes, I often question my career choice. I can honestly say that in 20 years in the classroom I had maybe half a dozen bad days. I love teaching. But here I am, trying to make structural and institutional differences from a central vantage. I have a suspicion I’ll be back in the classroom before I retire, but that’s a topic for another day.

Last week, I was reminded why teaching is an awesome thing to do with your life. To outward appearance, I’m just another suit-and-tie drone buzzing in an out of a downtown office building. I often feel that way myself. I attend meetings, form part of decision making processes, try to make change real and meaningful, and get involved in the politics of positive messaging and, when necessary, damage control. I used to come to an old school building and talk to young people. In the hallway we’d share superficial but important pleasantries—How are you? What are your plans for the weekend? During class time, we’d learn the approved curriculum, and sometimes take flights of fancy into the relationship between what we were learning and what was going on in the world. And when class was out, sometimes students would hang back and talk about what really matters: friends, family, joys, fears, hopes. And get extra help with their studies, of course.

Where was I? Oh yes. Last week. I droned into the elevator to get to my office and a strapping young man in coveralls snapped his attention from his corner of the elevator to mine. “Mr. Macnab!” He held out his hand. “What are you doing here?” I could hardly contain my joy at seeing this young man. (He doesn’t know I’m writing this, so I’ll just call him J.) We shook hands and I asked him if he had time to get off the elevator and catch up. We spent a few minutes in a convenient hallway. J. was in my class 8 years ago. We talked a lot back then. Like most teenagers he had a rich and interesting life, with many things working for him, but his share of life challenges too. And here he was, working in the building for a couple of days.

J. is an apprentice working toward his journeyman certificate in a building trade. He looks great: fit, confident, happy. His life is good. He has a good job. He sees a future. And he is happy to see me.

I grin as I type this. Nothing gives me greater career pleasure than seeing and hearing “I’m ok”. Damn I love hearing that.

A good number of my students have found me on Facebook or have sought me out for a cup of coffee; often we simply stumble across one another’s paths. And I always take pleasure in hearing “I’m ok”. Some are struggling in life; some are flying through it. But whenever I hear “I’m ok” I am truly grateful, and feel blessed.

Thanks for being ok and letting me know about it.

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