Everything I learned about teaching I learned from gangsters. I say that with the utmost respect and affection – I loved my students, even though they were probably the most unlovable humans on the face of the earth. But I learned to love them. They taught me.
In November of 2012, I applied for a job at an alternative high school in the metro Detroit area. I was called for an interview, and when I showed up at the school I was more than a little tentative. I sat in the car and texted my mom, “It’s a shithole. I don’t even want to go in for the interview.” In her usual up front manner, she texted back, “Don’t go in then.” I don’t know why, but I collected myself and went into the building.
When I walked in, all I could think about was the opening scene of the movie “Lean on Me.” I told myself that I would sit through the interview, but I didn’t have to take the job – if they even offered it to me.
I didn’t even make it home before they called me to offer me the job.
My students used to ask me all the time why I would want to work there. To be honest, I don’t know if I really knew why I wanted to work there. I had decided to change careers after working as an engineer for nearly eight years, and it was my first job as a newly certified teacher. When I left my engineering job, all I knew was that I wanted to stay home with my kids in the summer. I had always enjoyed coaching softball, so I thought teaching would be a good fit. Of course, I had to find a really fancy way of saying it when I was required to draft a philosophy statement to earn my certification.
As a teacher, I will be committed to making sure that every student has the opportunity to choose his or her own destiny. I believe that everyone is capable of learning, and I never allow students to utter the statement, “I’m not a math person.” I believe that the most valuable lessons learned in school are not always academic. No matter what classes I end up teaching, my highest goal is to teach my students how to think. Students who know how to think are prepared to interact intelligently with the world around them. This is, after all, the purpose of education. It’s not about math, it’s about life.
Philosophy of Teaching – November, 2012
During my tenure there, every time someone asked me “why?” I would respond, “Someone has to.” It was a lame response, but my philosophy just didn’t fit. It was pie in the sky. And I knew I couldn’t save them. I couldn’t be a hero. I always wished I could be one of those teachers that had the power to inspire students to greatness – like the teachers that are always portrayed in the movies. But I was too acquainted with their reality. At the end of every day, my gangsters were going back to a hopeless, empty existence no matter what I said or did.
And then, something changed. Someone asked me “why?” And I knew. I’m not sure how I knew, I just knew. I looked at my class and said, “I have no idea why I took this job; but I know without a doubt why I stayed.” It was them. I was there for them. I couldn’t save them. I couldn’t inspire them. But I could love them. And maybe even teach them a little math along the way.