On Mothers and Teachers and Mem

It’s strange–how much I can love teaching and at the same time… really wish I could just stay home and bake bread and make sure my children are wearing socks before they go off to school every morning.

do love teaching.  If I have to have a job, this is a pretty good one.  I love the challenge and the students and the intellectual wrestling over puzzling behavior problems with colleagues.  I love the success stories: Mr. “Dunno”, after all, did bring me a story this week–an entire page of writing, complete with the most beautiful piece of code-switching you’ve ever read.

“Dunno!” I exclaimed as I read it. “You wrote me a story–and this, this, right here, where you write about un grande sombrero charro? I love this!”

He couldn’t help letting a grin escape, but he wiped it away with the cuff of his sleeve–quick, cool–hoping I hadn’t noticed. “I didn’t know the English for it,” he said uncertainly.

“That’s okay!” I told him. “It’s more than okay! It allows me to hear your voice, and that’s what we want.”


“Seriously. There are lots of magnificent writers who do this–there’s even a fancy name for it, when an author alternates between two or more languages: they call it ‘code-switching’, but this is all it is. You did what brilliant writers do, and you didn’t even know you were doing it!”

That’s worth getting up for, every morning.

But so are the needs of my own children. I think it was Mem Fox who said, “I have always been a working mother, which is just another way of saying I have always been a guilty mother.”

I tried to envision myself, today, getting out of my car and walking into a school building, every day, day after day. Unlocking my classroom door, pouring my heart into loving and teaching these kids (because, as Mem also says, and she is correct, you cannot teach without love),  year after year–and not just teaching them the things I want, but teaching them the things the State says they have to know.

I realized this week that I love teaching language because I love language. I love the windows it opens into our world, and the power it gives to young people who feel so little power over their own lives. I will never love teaching them how to fill out mind-numbing worksheets and bubble forms, tasks that are suspiciously disconnected from real learning and language.

Students in three different classes asked me if I was tired today.

I didn’t mean to let it show–but it did. And if they can sense it on just one day: that one, stray, niggling thought of lessons I dread but will probably have to teach, what will they ferret out after I have been sitting in that desk for fifteen years? Am I being honest with them or myself, to even take up this gauntlet?

2 responses to “On Mothers and Teachers and Mem

  • Angie

    NOW you get it!!! Remember me dragging myself through your door? The guilt of leaving my babies? I love my students. I really do. But.
    I feel your pain. I know you’re amazing at this teaching thing. They tell us that if you’re going to be a working mom, teaching is the job to have. Just think of how much more you’ll LOVE summer break!

  • psphoenix

    I am sure plenty of people have a passionate argument for either side, but the only one that determine what is best for you… is you. I personally think you are an incredibly inspiring person, and I wish you the best of luck!

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