Mr. Jeffrey’s Ashes

I came across a great podcast called the CUNY Lecture Series. There have been some really interesting ones lately, but one that really caught by eye (or ear) last night, was one called, “Want to Learn? Go Teach.” The CUNY webpage offers a small intro:

Laughter carried Frank McCourt through 30 years of teaching English literature to more than 12,000 students in the New York City school system. “Teenagers are crazy, and I was in hysterics half of the time,” said McCourt, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of “Angela’s Ashes,” and other critically acclaimed works. “At the end of a day of teaching you have 175 stories because they are always up to something.”

Obviously, learning by teaching has a special place in my life right now. It’s basically the reason behind my Peace Corps service. I wanted to learn about myself and the rest of the world, and I thought this would be best achieved by volunteering for the U.S. Peace Corps. While I still think I made the right choice, teaching has been quite different than I thought it would be. Because this difference between what I imagined teaching in the PC to be like, and the realities of running a classroom have, at time, been quite severe, this podcast about an Irish English-Lit teacher in America was a great reminder that this distinction isn’t my own, but one faced by all teachers everywhere.

In my head, I figured that since I was an American English teacher, my students would be captivated by my lessons and would learn everything I mentioned with deliberate enthusiasm. It’s a little different this year, but last year I was shocked by the amount of time I spent disciplining, ordering, and organizing my classroom.

Equally, I was surprised by how rowdy everything was. When students would be shuffling around in the hallway between classes, I can only shake my head at the chaos and the inability of these kids to pass by calmly.

Unfortunately, I had been taking these experiences very personally. The kids didn’t listen because either they were hyperactive or I was doing a bad job as a teacher. Their rambunctious behavior was either caused by a lack of stimulation at home or by their need to get my attention.

In line with my new year’s resolution of not taking things so personally, McCourt says that (and i can only paraphrase what i remember from the podcast) there is something about teenage boys that makes it impossible for them to simply walk. They have to run, push, curse, be first, be loudest, or have the attention of everyone in the room. I felt like he was describing my students. That fact that he was describing America (albeit a few decades ago) makes me feel better about my situation here, and my students. Teenage boys are teenage boys, and even though sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it, it’s good to know that it is simply a fact and not anything I should really worry about it.

I can’t paraphrase everything else that he went though in his discussion of teaching for 30 years, but it’s good to know that my problems that I face as a teacher are not mine alone. I recommend anyone who has taught, or is thinking about teaching to give it a listen.


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