The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Tacos and Motivation

As I posted on Twitter last night, and mentioned yesterday, parent-teacher conferences are continuing today in the Champaign schools. I am hoping that my colleagues are having several (if not all) of the parents of their students coming in, so that these oh-so-important conferences can take place. My fear is that tradition will hold, though, and the parents who come in will be the ones who already meet with the teachers regularly, and the parents who really need to be there are going to be the ones who never show. But such are the challenges of public education.
In the meantime, I need something else to blog about, so as to not waste the time of my devoted readers. So I put out an open call yesterday for topics, and I was given two responses: tacos and what led me to become a teacher. I tried to touch on this latter topic with my very first blog entry here, but it is possible that it was missed. Furthermore,  I think that I can expand on the question of what led me to teach. And, in a very odd way, I am going to connect it to why I like tacos.

I first began to entertain the notion of being a teacher near the end of my 4th grade year. This was the year that I was in a combined 4/5th grade class, taught by Ms. Kathy McNamara. Ours was an experimental classroom funded by the Christa McAuliffe foundation. (At least, that is what I always thought it was called. I am now not so certain that such an organisation exists, and it is possible that it was actually a grant through the Christa McAuliffe Center at Framington University, but honestly, I am not sure. I do know for certain that Christa’s educational goals and vision were a major contributing factor to the development of our classroom, known as the Classroom of Tomorrow.) Regardless of the source of the establishment of the COT classroom, as we called it, Ms. Mac was an amazing teacher. She focused on project-based learning, experential learning, peer-teaching, group work, and differentiated instruction in a way that I had never experienced before. Of all these activities, the peer-teaching was the most important. I learned that I enjoyed teaching, and I was good at it. From that day onward, I took every opportunity to teach that I could, whether it was formal or informal. I became a teacher. Now I am a professional educator, as well.

So, I am sure that at least one of you is asking, “Okay, cool, but what does that have to do with tacos?” I’m glad you asked. And if you didn’t, well, I’m going to tell you, anyway. I like tacos. They are delicious, they are nutritious (or, at least, they can be, if made well), and they satisfy several different needs at once. If I could, I would probably eat tacos every day. My wife and I have recently started making tacos at home, and we are always glad that we do. If we had more money, I am positive that we would have tacos more often. Tacos are the everymeal. If you want meat, you can have meat. If you want hot and spicy, you can have it. If you want veggies, you’ve got it! Cheese? Plenty! Crunchy one day, soft the next? No problem! Tacos are so variable that they can always give you something new, something exciting. Want to know what corned beef and ketchup tastes like on a soft flour tortilla? Go ahead a try it! (Note: It is the most disgusting thing you will ever put in your mouth. I know. But that is another story for another day.)

When it comes to vocations, education is the taco of the professional fields. It is satisfying, it is healthy, and it meets several different needs at once. In addition to just being good at teaching, I want to know everything. I know that I won’t know everything at once, and I probably won’t ever know everything there is to know, but I want to know as much as I possibly can. I can’t be satisfied with just knowing some things, or a little bit about everything, or even a lot about one thing. I know that there are people who are satisfied with this, and I am glad that there are. If everyone in the world were like me, this would be a very dull place indeed. But I want to know everything about everything. And so I chose to become a professional educator. It is the only field in which I can be paid to learn and to live vicariously through my clients (in this case, my students). One of my heroes of education is a woman named Esmé Raji Codell. I love the concluding paragraph of her autobiographical work, “Educating Esmé: Diary Of A Teacher’s First Year”. In it she makes this keen observation about teachers:

People snicker, “Those who can’t do, teach.” But, oh, how right they are. I could never, ever do all I dream of doing. I could never, ever be an opera star, a baseball umpire, an earth scientist, an astronaut, a great lover, a great liar, a trapeze artist, a dancer, a baker, a buddha, or a thousand other aspirations I have had, while having only been given one thin ticket in this lottery of life! In the recessional [of her students who have graduated], as I watch them, mine, the ones I loved, I overflow with the joyous greed of a rich man counting coins… I experience a teacher’s great euphoria, the knowledge like a drug that will keep me: Thirty-one children. Thirty-one chances. Thirty-one futures, our futures…. Everything they become, I also become.

As a teacher, I want tacos every day. And as a professional educator, I can have them, through the lives of my students. As a substitute teacher, I am richly blessed to not have 15, 20, or 30 students, but hundreds of students. Knowing that my brief encounters with them may have a lasting impact on their lives, in the same way that that one brief year with Ms. Mac changed the course of my life forever, is what motivates me to teach. It is what helps me wake up in the cold, early hours of the morning and head off to school each day. If and when I get a job as a full-time self-contained general education classroom instructor, I will continue to be motivated by this desire to do everything in the world, to know everything in the world, not just through my own efforts, but also through the efforts of my students. Maybe I’ll celebrate the end of each year with a taco party, too.


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