Thoughts on Teaching

“Here’s the thing,” he said, “you’re trying to live your life in this straight line. You’ve got tunnel vision. Life isn’t a straight line.” He pulled out a piece of notebook paper, seemingly out of nowhere to an inattentive high school student, turned it sideways, and drew a straight, thick line from one edge of the paper to the other.

“Now, I know this is how you think you are supposed to do everything in life: start to finish. No distractions. But I think you’re smart enough to know that that’s not how life really works. It’s more of a curve, several curves, and countless curves really, but then it comes back. Then you’ll see that sometimes it dips a little lower. But it comes back up, or should. You get what I mean?” He always made sure I understood what he was saying.

“I think I do,” I answered. But I don’t think I really did understand at the time. But I do now.

“You think you’re only option is to run off and join the military, the straight line,” he said. “But I can tell by the things you say and write that that’s not what you really want to do. You think it’s what you want to do, but you only think that it’s what you want to do because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. But there’s a difference. You know what I’m saying, the difference between want and supposed?” The paper was covered in lines that ended abruptly and curves that left the paper, leaving pencil marks on my desk. “But along the way, you’ll see that there is almost never just one supposed to do along this straight line. Sometimes these curves become a separate straight line than the one you started along.”

It was always like this in Mr. Jones’s class. It seems like a lot written down, but he talked really fast.

He continued, “Let’s pretend that this straight line is going to take you from this moment, the one we are in right now, and it’s going to take you all the way through high school to you joining the military. But look at this little curve. This curve is the paper you need to write tonight. But you’ll see that there is a small curve before that. In order for you to write that paper, you need to read these chapters of this book. So let’s pretend now, hypothetically, you’ve read the chapters and you’ve typed your paper. Let’s say you pass this class. You get a good grade, or what have you. Now you have a better GPA, now your transcript looks a little better. More curves present themselves beyond joining the military. Sometimes the curves become more important than the straight line. They form new straight lines and eventually you have to cut yourself off from that original straight line or plan. That doesn’t make any sense to you, does it? I don’t think it does.”

He was really confusing me.

“Basically, take the road less travelled,” he sighed. “You don’t want to look back at your life and have a bunch of ‘what if’ moments. Try to take as many scenic routes as you can. You are never limited to just one decision. There are always choices.”


I started trying to write something one of my high school teachers tried to explain to me before I graduated high school. But as I wrote it, I realized that I can’t remember enough about what was actually said. Thinking about it, I can’t remember whether or not I was even thinking about joining the military at the time or not. I can’t remember whether it was during my senior year in high school or my junior year. But the overall message comes through towards the end, I think.

I work with high school kids everyday as I continue my journey toward certification, so naturally I come home and reflect about how the day went and about what I feel made good teachers when I was in high school. I’m surprised how hard it is to pinpoint what it was exactly that separated the good teachers from the bad teachers. But I think that one thing, among a thousand other things that make good teachers, was the teacher’s ability to make me feel as if I were getting some individual attention. Something as small as a two minute conversation let me know that the teacher did care about where and what I was doing and planning outside of the classroom.

I know education is waaaaaaay more complex than this, but I just wanted think about one small aspect of it.

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Filed under creative non fiction, Free Writes and Exercises

3 responses to “Thoughts on Teaching

  1. Teachers often get a bad rap, but there are some great ones out there–the ones who affect your life in ways well after you have left their classroom. Thanks for reminding us of all the good apples in the barrel!

  2. Seán Cooke

    I’m not sure if Mr. Jones was his genuine name or used just for this story, but Mr. Jones seems to be the fictional teacher’s name in A LOT of stories! It’s kind of freaky. :P

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