Why I love being a high school French teacher

  1. When I decide it’s time, we get to play games, sing songs, run around the room, and eat candy.
  2. I have the power to give tests. I’m always less interested in the power to correct the tests, but there you are.
  3. High school is the last great social equalizer. Coaching young people through the inevitable land mines of, “I can’t believe I have to sit in the same room as these people, much less work with them” is a very emotionally satisfying process.
  4. Bringing young people to France and watching their eyes light up when they first see the Eiffel Tower or their first real château is super, duper, amazingly cool.
  5. When someone comes up to me to ask for advice, there is a really good chance they’ll listen to what I have to say.
  6. I get to geek out on French grammar all I want.
  7. I get to teach my favorite short stories.
  8. I get to show my favorite movies.
  9. Whenever a student asks me how they can raise money for the France trip, I give them my Nobody can resist a cute kid with a good hustle, so go work your butt off for anyone who’ll hire you speech. Sometimes that student actually figures out that working for something that you really want is satisfying. Then I take credit for it.
  10. I hated being a high school student. Now that I’ve taught in a high school for more than ten years, I have finally figured it out: Adolescence is EXCRUCIATING. It includes searching for identity, experimenting with personal style, falling in and out of crush, having hormones constantly do strange things to your body, and getting bossed around by every single person over the age of twenty that you encounter.
  11. I don’t feel so bad for hating high school, and I get to tell my students that it will all be over soon — just be safe, respect yourself, and don’t catch anything. Or smoke weed. Or get pregnant. Not getting pregnant is key.
  12. Nothing makes being 14, 15, 16, 17 easy. But teachers with a good sense of humor, the willingness to acknowledge that it sometimes sucks, and the occasional appropriate half hug or pat on the back can make it a bit more manageable. At le ast that is what I keep telling myself. If I’m deluded, I’d rather stay that way.
  13. I get to make kids work really hard and then tell them they’re awesome when they reach their goals. Which are really my goals for them, but you have to start somewhere. I get to teach kids how to set goals for themselves and reach them.
  14. And the times they don’t, I give them another chance. I give chances until a student p roves to me s/he really doesn’t want them anymore. S/he just wants to get the failing over with. That makes me sad, but I know sometimes that is the way it is and that studen t’s time to learn how to succeed will come later. Or not.
  15. On nights like tonight, I do things like agree to chaperone the Sadie Hawkins Barn Dance and give a Friday night to the children after giving them Monday through Friday a ll day. I complain righteously about it, then show up and have a really good time laughing at how cute they are and how happy they are that they’re young and at a dance and having fun and that the teachers they like are there. But they can’t tell us they’re happy we’re there, because that just isn’t cool at all. But they will say, “Bonsoir, Madame” and I will tell them their matchy-matchy outfits are fantastic and they will let me take their picture and then go squaredance with their friends. They will let me watch them be young and happy and totally in the moment and I will work the crowd and check the bathrooms and comfort the ones who are crying and bust the ones who are smoking or drinking and let someone else do the paperwork later.
  16. Every year, I get a new brood of 160 – 180 kids to fill up with all the affection and attention and discipline and love that I’ve got. There’s no limit to how much they’ll soak up of what I have to offer. It makes more tolerable the fact that I’ve not yet managed to have kids of my own.
  17. It’s not at all rare for students to come back to me years after they’ve graduated to tell me how they’re doing and how much they loved my classes. That always makes me feel really, really, really good.
  18. I have posters of my favorite châteaux all over my classroom and I get to look at them all day.
  19. I’m in charge of this year’s Yearbook. How cool is that? It’s busting my ass, but has a supercharged megabusy awesomeness about it.
  20. I get to carry around the hope that maybe because of me and my colleagues in the World Language department, there exists a group of young people in Minneapolis who are interested in the world around them as a place to interact with, respect, learn from, and explore with the appreciation that Not Everyone In The World Is American. And that’s GOOD. I get to teach them that all those other people out there in those other countries are pretty fricken cool and we have a lot to learn from them about how to live a good life. Sometimes, I’m the first person they’ve ever heard that from. Other times, I’m just reinforcing the idea and giving another shove towards the door of global understanding. And that makes me feel like a responsible citizen.
  21. It may not be brain surgery, but sometimes I feel like teaching a kid how to steer his or her life is as important as saving it.

**Originally posted 10 October 2008. This post contains some of the seeds I put into my one-woman show, Pardon My French.

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