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My turn, Larry Efird: Finding the ‘something more’ in teaching

Columnist

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.

By Larry Efird

Having gotten back into the hurricane force of another school year, I’ve had a few moments in between going to sporting events, department meetings, open house, hall duty, lunch duty, after school duty, lesson planning, club meetings and, last but not least, teaching, to do some much-needed reflection.

I’ve never met a teacher who felt he or she had too much free time. And to be honest, most of us thrive on life in the fast lane. But after a full day or week of motivating eager and not-so-eager students in an effort to inspire and direct them into a life filled with purpose and meaning through our own unique content areas, asking ourselves why we teach is probably not the best idea.

I’ve read numerous books about teaching philosophies and how to better understand what I’m supposed to be doing with my time and my life while circling the wagons in my classroom and in an attempt to create a safe, cozy environment in which my kids will want to come to school and learn in my room.   

Those books all have something valid and insightful to say, and I’m often encouraged by reading what someone else has done to be successful or their courageous attempts to maximize their test scores while overcoming negative external forces.  But I know there’s got to be “something more” to teaching than what I read.

I take data and test scores with a grain of salt (and aspirin), but I can’t totally ignore them either. In my heart, I know the relationship I build with a student or an entire class is much more important than how well they do on a standardized test or even on their report card.

The spirit of the class is what I’m more interested in and how I can reach them with a message of hope or a sense of urgency that their lives matter — all of them, and not just the ones who plan on going to college. Thus, the teacher struggle continues, not just in keeping up with our harried schedules, but with communicating valuable life lessons covertly embedded in our curriculum without coming across as too preachy or invasive.

Recently, however, in the midst  of  some unexpected teacher down time,  I found myself reading from the Tao of Pooh (yes, Winnie the Pooh). The words were timely, and I drank them in like a glass of sweet tea at an outdoor wedding reception on a hot summer day.   

“Now, scholars can be very useful and necessary, in their own dull and unamusing way. They provide a lot of information,” I read. “It’s just that there is something more, and that something more is what life is all about.”   

“Something more:” Those two, simple words say a great deal. All teachers know there’s “something more” than what we physically do each day. We know there’s “something more” to our jobs than taking attendance and calling parents. There’s “something more” than grading papers and writing referrals.  There’s “something more” than having to worry about repayment of burgeoning college loans. There’s even “something more” than  solid End of Course preparation and results. But how do we find that “something more” when we appear to be drowning in the moment of “something else”?

The biggest mistake is thinking we’ll find it in books by people with many more degrees than we will ever have or in some new computer strategy we haven’t tried yet. Another mistake is thinking that someone is always doing a better job than we are and  all we need to do is sign up for his or her workshop and sit under their Bodhi tree for awhile. We might even be tempted to think that “something more” is getting yet another degree (even though we know we won’t be paid for it).

I’m glad I found the “something more” in teaching. I’m thankful to have worked with other teachers who understood that there truly was “something more” to this profession — something bigger, something more noble and something higher. Perhaps it comes to teachers in different thoughts and forms, but without it, we wouldn’t last long. It’s what keeps us going and what gives us hope. That “something more” is what teaching is all about.

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.

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