Reflections on Being Back in the Classroom
Even with all the systematic issues surrounding the classroom, teaching is worth it.
This is my second week back in the classroom, and it reminds me how much I love teaching. I love how the class reverberates with nervousness on the first day but begins to bloom on the second. I love watching the hardness melt away as the students start to talk with one another. I love seeing them fight through apprehension as they contemplate whether or not to raise their hand for class discussions. Out of all the environments I’ve been in, nothing beats the joy a successful classroom carries.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I never wanted to teach. I loved English. It was always a subject that held me close, but teaching never captured my attention. As an English major all through college, I grew sick of being asked about being a teacher. I grew even sicker of not knowing exactly what I would do when I graduated. Both of these combined into a distaste I couldn’t shake for the field until I took English 511 at CSU San Bernardino. In this class, informally called SCIPP, I taught creative writing and art to elementary students. From then on, I was hooked. Like many folks, my younger self had yet to realize the intellectual magic that can happen in the classroom. Because, paradoxically, even though we’ve spent much of our life at school, being in charge of one changes one’s entire perspective of what goes into teaching.
If one of my utopian dreams could be met, it would be a shift in societal reverence towards the education system. The reality, unfortunately, is that education is not revered. It is instead dismissed as supplemental. Something that could be carved out until there’s little left. Teachers across the country continue to fight for basic dignities like living wages and classroom resources. The recent Oakland teachers’ strike and West Virginia teacher’s strike are immediate examples of this. With the vast amounts of information that we know collectively as a species, the consistent loss of funding of education as a whole, the skyrocketing prices of higher education, and the overall lack of investment both institutionally and socially in education is disheartening and dangerous. I have my personal conspiracy theories for why this is, but whether it’s just ignorance or intentional oppression, inaccessible and inadequate education creates huge systematic problems and reinforces pre-existing ones.
In higher education, there’s also a problem with the dependency of part-time adjunct instructors who receive merely a fraction of the benefits and support full-time faculty do with all the same qualifications. Like in primary and secondary education, the lack of investment in instructors hurts everyone involved—students, part-time instructors, full-time instructors, the college, and the society we live in. The devaluing of one group means that every other faction is susceptible to devaluation. And, we’ve experienced the consequences of this reality for some time, such as state funding going down and the prices of tuition rising.
With all of these overarching systematic problems, teaching is still one of the most rewarding endeavors I do. This is both a blessing and a challenge since folks can’t feed themselves and pay their bills with joy. Yet, I overlook these issues with every rewarding encounter I come across, like a student leaving my class with a more positive outlook on life. There’s also a sense of reward from my own growth in the middle of my third year of teaching. This is the first semester I’ve prepped and readied all of my materials before my class started. I’m satisfied with my schedule, and I printed ALL of my major writing assignments plus corresponding resources for each. It feels good to be so organized. It feels good the students feel good with the organization of the class. Even with all the institutional issues, this good feeling and the love carries me.