Half-time by Anna Eaton-Merkle
I have been teaching for 23 years this fall. I am also turning 46 this fall. Even to the mathematically impaired, those numbers mean one thing to me. I have been teaching for half my life. I am not sure how I feel about that. My friend Mike says that if you live long enough, chances are that you will end up doing something for half your life. While true enough, this is not that simple. Having been a teacher for half my life brings up images of the doddering old geezers that were my high school teachers. The reality is that they were probably my age – maybe even younger. I’ll be honest; to me they seemed really old.
Therefore, logic would have it that I seem really old to my students. How is it that one day I am hip to everything going on in the world of high school and the next day I am a relic from the past? Have they been laughing at my outfits and not my wit for the past few years? Do they have nicknames for me like “Chin-Hair Merkle” or “Ms. ThinksShe’sCoolButReallyShe’sNot?” Do they tell their parents about the old battleaxe who tells stupid jokes and thinks Matt Lauer is sexy?
And if I have been teaching for HALF MY LIFE, why aren’t I better at it? There are still days when my ideas are far superior to the actual lesson. There have been several occasions wherein well-meaning kids have to remind me that I have said something already, multiple times. Every day is an organizational labyrinth strewn with papers to grade, reports to sign, and instructional calendars to implement. You’d think that by this time, I would have gotten the hang of it. Half of one’s life should indicate some sort of mastery.
This is how one can wake up with half a life spent but still feeling like there is so much more to learn. More importantly, still feeling like this is exactly where I want to be. When we are doing our unit on Careers and Colleges at the beginning of the year, I share with my students that I always wanted to be an English teacher. Sure some of them groan or roll their eyes, but even the most jaded can’t argue with my sincerity. This is what I always wanted to do; exactly what I wished for back in the day that I was planning for my future (note: this probably reads like an Arthurian Legend in their eyes.) In this way I have been very lucky. I am also proud of the fact that luck had very little to do with it.
The fact is, I wanted to be an English teacher and so I planned for it. I graduated from college, even though that meant suffering though math classes that held no meaning for me (still don’t), science labs that were downright scary, and foreign language courses that lulled me to sleep first in French and then Spanish. I student taught at the very high school from which I had graduated only a few years earlier. I didn’t get a teaching job right away and so I graded papers for one school district, substitute taught for another, and worked nights at the mall to pay the rent. My first teaching job was working with the 30 lowest achieving students at an intermediate school of 2000, and I was in heaven. A lifetime later, I can still remember their trusting faces as they waited for me to teach them something.
Now, I look back on 23 years of faces waiting for me to teach them something and I think I have a pretty good track record. Maybe they only learned that reading can open your mind or that writing can heal. Maybe they learned that school can be fun if they let it. Maybe they learned that they hold within themselves the power to do anything they set their minds to do.
Maybe they learned how important it is to be a part of something that is bigger than the little worries that crop up from time to time, bigger than any one of us, bigger than any one life. I know that after 23 years, that is the biggest lesson of all.