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Chuck Brooks' column: Teaching goes beyond what's on the curriculum

It’s finally February. I thought January would never end. In 32 years, I’ve never had to listen to talk of “adding student-contact” days. It’s been surreal on some levels. I’ve heard from some former students who are now freshmen in college, and they can’t believe school was cancelled FIVE times in ONE month the year after they’ve left. It made me chuckle.

I’ve been thinking. When I became a teacher, there was a huge learning curve for me those initial years, as you might imagine. I found myself saying, “They never told us about THAT in college!” As those early years came and went, I found myself looking at education from a little bit of a different perspective than I did when I first entered the field. I always knew the content would be the focus for what went on in the classroom. I did not know, however, there’d be another component I would find myself teaching time and time again.

If you’re like me, there are classes you took in high school that required us to “learn” material we, for the most part, have never really found useful in our daily lives. I guess that makes sense. I won’t focus on any one discipline, but I know I’ve managed to get to where I am in life without using some of the information I acquired back then.

However, there was a point in my job when I came to this revelation. I can teach my students about punctuation and reading strategies and sentence structure, etc., but somehow, they’ll manage to survive in the world if they don’t master that material. What seems to be more important each and every year is the need to “teach” them how to be successful citizens. They need to understand the importance of deadline dates, work ethic, respect, and time management, to name a few. I don’t undermine the need for the content. I do, however, know I can’t get the content to them if they don’t meet me halfway on the other items.

In the adult world, we know certain behaviors are important. If we don’t pay bills on time, there is often a penalty fee added to the next bill. If we don’t show up to work on time, it could ultimately provide a negative situation for us in our jobs. If we don’t manage our time well as adults in whatever it is we’re doing, there’s always a price to pay down the road.

I need to make sure my kids leave my room with the ability to survive in the next phase of their lives. These are life-long behaviors I’m talking about outside of my content area. Sometimes I am met with opposition regarding this from outside sources. I’ll leave that topic, however, for another column at another time.

One of my parents at the recent conferences said to me, in reference to something we had talked about, “That’s a sign of a really good teacher.” I appreciate it when people make comments like that. However, I came back with, “Hopefully, it’s a sign of a really good human.” I have told my students numerous times I was a human being before I became a teacher. What I do in my classroom is because of who I am as a person. It’s sort of the same reasoning behind why I hate the word, “professional.” I have always hated that word. When it’s used like, “Behave professionally,” I cringe. I, instead think, Behave like a respectful and responsible person! It’s a matter of semantics, yes, but I’ve never liked it when people take the human element out of the person.

I’ve also never been fond of labels. Shouldn’t we all be teachers, anyhow? When it comes to young people, they need as many “teachers” in their life as possible. However, if we’re good people, the teaching aspect comes naturally when the situation arises. I remember a number of people who “taught” me what it meant to be a good and responsible person as I was growing up. A number of those people weren’t teachers by trade. They were simply people who cared about me. My friend, Rose Karl, who lived to be 104, taught me much about life without ever knowing she was doing so. She did it from a wheelchair in a nursing home until she passed and I was 18. I think of her often and how that friendship still rings true today on so many levels.

It’s our job now more than ever to try to help them understand what it will take to survive successfully in life after high school.

We should all be so lucky to be someone’s Rose Karl.