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I Remember That You Loved Us Even Though We Were Social Misfit Flunkies

November 13, 2009

Yesterday I did two Career Day presentations at a local high school. My job was to tell students a bit about my career path and a bit about becoming a teacher. This was an uphill slog. They were there, but lots of them hadn’t the least bit of interest in becoming a teacher. They were polite, but what I was saying didn’t mean much to most of them. I understand. Despite giving my younger brothers and sisters spelling tests weekly when I was in middle and high school, I didn’t really plan to become a teacher. I thought I was going to be a Leave It to Beaver mom, baking cookies and making nifty and creative stuff for the house (although never in high heels and pearls, even then I wasn’t a fan of the girly stuff).

So I gave those students the usual advice about good grades blah blah blah and then it hit me as I looked at a room full of folks who would probably rather be elsewhere but were mostly tolerating me, the most important piece of advice I can give anyone who wants to become a teacher: You have to love your students. You have to love them in spite of who you are (and you will probably become a better person because of it), you have to love them in spite of who they are (and maybe they’ll remember that someone did), and you have to love them in spite of the systemic realities that often seem to delight in pushing you and them to the brink of dropping out.

There were many days teaching high school when my lessons were less than stellar, when I was too tired to plan anything very interesting. I remember some of those days with guilt because the responsibility and privilege of teaching often weigh heavily on those of us who do this job. But here’s what I almost always brought to class: my smile. I delighted in being with my students even when none of us was at our best. I still do. And I think that’s the greatest thing a teacher can give to her or his students, love that represents acceptance and vision and hope and belief in possibility. And, yes, I did insist that people actually learn something about English before they could pass my classes, but even if they didn’t, I loved them anyway.

Yesterday, I heard from a former student, someone I remember well. He wrote that he remembered “that you loved us even though we were social misfit flunkies.“ Yes. I did. I loved all of you, and if you’re out there, I’d love to hear from you. I’m the Mrs. Zinn who used to teach English and radio and the STAR dropout prevention program at South Medford High School. My first name used to be Carol, and I remember you.

Who do you need to love despite who they are, despite who you are?

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
• Audrey Hepburn

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2 comments

  1. Zinn! I can’t believe that I’ve been missing out on your blog all term (because I am also a Vast Underestimator- of time, that is). However, tonight I made up for lost time. You are an incredibly talented, thoughtful and entertaining writer. Once I started reading your entries, I couldn’t stop. Everything about your writing is totally ZINN! I admire your transparency in your writing and someday hope to do the same…except I want my writing to be “totally JENN,” of course.

    The reason I chose to respond to this entry was because it really “hit home” for me. At the heart of teaching is loving your students…”in spite of who you are, in spite of who they are, and in spite of systemic realities.” That’s beautiful!

    You’re a phenomenal teacher…and person. Thanks you.


    • Thanks! My advice is go for it and be totally Jenn! Z



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