328. A Letter to Pat

The Pat I’m writing to is a fictional character – a composite of all the people who, for one reason or another, didn’t think I was doing a very good job teaching. Pat may have been a parent, a teacher, an administrator, or a child. There were more people who thought that way in 1969, when I started my teaching career, than in 1994, when I retired, but there were always some.

Dear Pat,
Before I say anything else, I want you to know that I tried with all my might to be a good teacher. I tried to pay attention to the needs of every child, and to do the right things. If a child had difficulty, or had a personality that bothered me, I tried to find ways to establish an effective teaching relationship with that child. If you thought I wasn’t trying, you were wrong.
But effort isn’t enough. We give children lots of credit for trying, as we should. But adults who are doing important work have to do more than try; they have to succeed. Professional athletes don’t get much credit for trying to get touchdowns, hits, baskets, or goals. They get credit for making it more possible for their teams to win. If that happens, then they usually also get credit for the effort.
I got lots of credit from lots of people. They saw evidence that I was doing what they thought ought to be done. Either they actually saw me in action, or they saw the results of what I did – new skill or knowledge, or an improved attitude. From those people’s points of view, I was a good teacher. And from my own point of view, I was pretty good.
And there are people who may have read my articles, but have never or rarely seen me teach. Most of the ones I’ve heard from seem to think I must have been a phenomenal teacher – one of the all-time greats. How else could I have written all these insightful articles?
But writing and teaching are two separate skills. Much of what I’ve written describes actual effective lessons I’ve planned and taught. So at least some of my teaching was undeniably good. But as a writer, I get to choose which things I want to tell you about. And there’s no way I’m going to tell you about the times I kept trying something even though it was quite obvious that it wasn’t going to work. I’m not going to advertise my shortcomings.
This letter isn’t just an apology, but it is partly apologetic. I’m sorry that I was not as effective as you wished I would be. I wish you hadn’t asked me to resign, complained about me, taken your child out of my class, or whatever you did to make me think you disapproved of my teaching. But just as I know I could have helped some children more than I did, please know that there were probably ways you and I could have found common ground.
Bob Blue

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