One of the more pressing questions I’ve asked myself over the last eighteen months is whether or not the student has fundamentally and irreversibly changed, or am I temporarily indifferent because I’ve become slightly burnt out. This thought has been the marrow of my last few blogs. The quintessential, “is it you or is it me?” in education. I bounce back and forth between these two sides often. Sometimes monthly, sometimes weekly, sometimes on a period-by-period basis. And I’ve finally realized why I cannot escape this question: I’ve reached my mid-teaching life crisis. And oh boy, it’s getting warm in my classroom.
I started noticing the temperature some years ago when student after student started talking about a rapper after rapper whom I had never heard about. “Sir, you gotta check out NBA Youngboy, he’s the best rapper out right now.” “Mr. Morris, have you heard of A Boogie wit da Hoodie?” The rap names they were dropping really had me thinking that they were just messing with me. Nope. The new artist had songs that streamed in the millions and videos on YouTube that did even higher numbers. Despite this, some years ago, I barely noticed the gap growing.
After that, visits from graduates would prompt my sweating, in general, to increase. First, former students would come by and I couldn’t pinpoint the year they graduated. Then I couldn’t put a face to a name. Then there were times that I couldn’t even remember the face! And then I got a message from a former student. She told me that she had a former student in one of her high school English classes. I thought that was funny. Then it hit me.
I have a former student who is teaching a former student.
The hot flashes came on pretty much after that realization. And that is the realization that teaching suspends time. Halfway. I mean, only one side. While educators grow older––gaining bits of knowledge and experience as the years pass––our students remain fixed at their age. Over the last decade, I’ve taught the same thirteen and fourteen year olds. Not the exact same thirteen and fourteen year olds, of course. But year after year thirteen and fourteen year olds enter––then after ten months––leave my classroom. And new ones come. But they’re the same. Only the age gap between them and myself grows.
I began teaching these students when the age gap between us was in the single digits. Two decades now easily span in between my students and myself. I’m Benjamin Button. My ship is fleeting off. Theirs remains anchored. It always has. And this thought didn’t hit me until I hit that mid-teaching life crisis. It wasn’t the burn out. It wasn’t the pandemic. The feelings I have are not from indifference. It’s all from the age gap that’s grown and grown without me understanding how valuable it was in the moment. So now, at least I understand where that question that I couldn’t get rid of came from.