Actually, I should name this post ‘tired’ because it’s what happens when talents go unrecognized, unnurtured, or unacknowledged. ‘Tired’ is what happens to the talented when no one asks, ‘Where do you see this going? What do you want to do with this? Let’s see if we can find a direction for this…’ Right? Because talent, like all aspects of being human, thrives in healthy, engaged, reciprocal communities.
I am a talented teacher because I am totally invested in finding out from my students what they think their talents are, nurturing them and their talents, and acknowledging their growth in those and other areas. I would argue that 90% of my students over the last 12 1/2 years would agree with me. As much as I love teaching literary analysis and the research process, as much as I enjoy hand-holding student through college applications, nothing thrills me more than finding out my students’ passions and going on some crazy journey with them as they explore.
My students aren’t always into things like literature or art or theory – my personal joys. I’ve had students fascinated by serial killers, biotechnology, politics, oceanography, criminology, aerospace engineering, community service, zoology, Pokemon, body language… you name it, I’ve seen it and, alongside my students, immersed myself in myriad possibilities…
However, my interest in my students’ talents isn’t what makes me a talented teacher; lots of people are interested in other people. No, my talent is getting to the heart of my students’ relationships with their talents, helping them articulate their vision, and walking them through the process of figuring out how that vision might fit into their lives. My talent is that this is neither a mandatory experience nor some random side project; discovering what drives my students is central to my work as a teacher, but it isn’t listed in any of my syllabi. Maybe it should be. Who knows. At this point, who cares?
I am tired. As a child, no one asked me where I saw my talent for music going, what I might do with my ear for language or my passion for reading. I’ve been lucky because, with literature and art (if not with language and music), I permitted myself my interests, wasn’t admonished for pursuing such penniless endeavors by my family, I and directed myself to places that would nurture my growth. My intellectual life is rich because I dared to follow my interests. There are, because a lot of my growth has been self-directed, many, many holes in my abilities, but, thankfully, positioning myself as an ‘artist’ rather than as a ‘scholar’ means that I can do interesting things with the gaps in my knowledge. But, as a teacher, sheesh. People aren’t kidding when they say this is a wearying, thankless job – especially when you go around looking for the possibility hidden in each student. Maybe there’s a better, more systematic, less personal, less taxing, less-hands on way to do this. Who knows. At this point, who cares?
Maybe schools and communities should ask teachers – and not on some school climate survey or in a formal meeting attended by administrators, business owners, and parents with spare time – what’s central to their teaching practice, what drives them, and find ways to nurture and acknowledge those strengths. Who knows. At this point, who cares?
All I know is that it sucks to be good at something and watch that ability wither away because it is unseen, underfed, and undervalued – or worse, under siege.