Interviewer (Myself, hereafter simply I): I wanted to sit down with myself and see how if I could ask myself about the trap many veteran teachers face of becoming somewhat jaded, or cynical. I found myself willing, seated on a firm but pleasant leather couch, some sort of smoke in the air, and with that smell was entwined a lower scent of good Burgundy, somewhere in the ’92 range. It appeared that this seasoned teacher was letting himself go, what with tie at half mast and most of that hidden behind a rather bushy and long gray beard. But I found him willing to talk, so we commenced.
Dude, you seem a little out of sorts these days in class. What is up?
Whiney Seasoned (Perhaps with a little too much wine) Teacher of Youth, Tipping Toward Cynicism (Myself, hereafter simply Wine E):
It’s these Freshmen. Every year I think, “This is the epitome, the zenith of ignorance, the new low standard, the worst it can get. Then another year’s class breaks all records. As a young teacher I ran into some older experienced folk who just seemed so cynical, jaded, even bitter. And I remember wanting to not be like them when I got to their place. But I feel I may be headed that way.
Are you burning out on your teaching? Is there an expiration date for your profession?
If anything, I feel even more energized and excited about teaching. Never have I felt so keenly the need to positively affect the next generation. So no, at least for me, it is not that I am tiring of school, or the process, or teaching, or truth. I think the expiration date for teaching is my own retirement. I am planning the retirement for that at a local graveyard. But I do find it harder to keep my student’s attention, to bring them to a place of careful and sustained thought, to be motivated to think seriously. I am not really as excited about explaining this phenomenon as I am seeking ways to keep it from turning me into Mr. Crabby.
I want to emphasize that I am not talking about the difference between a Freshman and a Senior. That is maturity. I can’t expect a freshy to be like a Senior. But I am looking at each year’s crop of Seniors and sadly having to say that there is a strong decline overall in a love for learning. We seem to have succeeded in convincing the students that learning is a form of power acquisition, not a humane love. And that pushes me (as one who loves learning for learning’s sake) toward a form of cynicism.
So then is it the students? Aren’t kids just always kids? Has anything really changed with them?
Well, it’s easy to blame them. But I don’t think something that originated within the student himself would be so pervasive. I do think kids are basically kids. But there is a cultural component to all this. I think it is more of a indication of how they have been raised than how they “are.” I suppose that is why I keep going, because if it’s a product of education, then perhaps it can be taught back out of them. But the pervasive nature of the issue is what is so wearying, so inexorable.
I read a while back an account of Ernest Shakelton’s adventure at the bottom of the world where he and his 28 comrades are trying escape from the frozen sea. Their boats were subject to these huge multi-ton blocks of ice that had the ability to crush them with one push. I thought when I read it that this was similar to my own attempts to overcome the affect of our culture upon my students. It is a crushing pressure.
At issue is the value I perceive our culture shifting from what I will call traditional education to some new form that is much different. In the traditional form, it was all about wisdom and virtue. In this new world of education, it is about feelings and perception. It is also about gaining power in order to find pleasure. When you are “selling” something that seems against the norm, you just have to wonder how much longer you keep raising your voice in the market place.
So if you are selling something the majority don’t want, that would seem to move you toward cynicism. Is there anything you can do?
So that is the heart of the problem, right? Selling ice to Eskimos type of thing. It’s almost like selling ice to those who don’t believe ice exists. But in this case, it is truth, goodness, beauty that are called into question, or at least any notion of those things being objective enough for one person to dare to speak to another about them. I think the cure as it were is loving. I have to love the truth or I won’t want to “sell” it. And I have to continue to love my students (as they are, where they are, warts and weirdness and all), or I will no longer care to “sell” to them.
And a lot of loving my students comes down to being real about who they and I are. The more differences I see between them and myself, whether that is a comparison of their love of truth to mine, or comparative virtue or whatever usually indicates the level of vanity and pride that has crept into my thinking. I may feel like I love truth more than they do, or that it all lies with them, or some other excuse, but in the end, the reason to avoid cynicism is because I am a sinner saved by grace and that excludes any notion of superiority with them.
And so from my perspective, avoiding the rocks of cynicism starts with good friendships. Finding even one other lover of truth, and holding onto their shirttail like a life rope is often our only hope. Christ is certainly always there, as well. I resist being Mr. Crabby because he has forgotten some of these simple truths, and I purport to love the truth, all truth. So I have to love not only the truth, but the truth that my students are still worthy of my love if they already have been granted the love of Christ.
Well, may God give you a heart of love for your students, for Truth, and ultimately simply for Him. May the Spirit keep you from the Slough of Despond. God bless your efforts.
If He doesn’t we are all hopeless. Thanks for the talk. It’s helped.