Thursday, June 18, 2015

Those who can, do, like Mr. Gordon does

I have a teacher friend whom I love and hate.

I love him because he’s funny, a good friend and a great teacher.  He’s that rare breed of person who is a natural at teaching, who instinctively knows how to handle a roomful of students, and who actively works all the time to improve his instruction. 

Students are always engaged in Mr. Gordon’s class.  Granted, there may be one or two exceptions who stubbornly refuse to do anything, but it’s rare to walk in his room and not see students actively working or engaging in some discussion about the lesson.  He knows the material inside and out.  He plans his lessons down to the minute to make sure that he doesn’t run over, or come up short.  His name is said with reverence by other teachers and administrators.  In fact, you regularly find other teachers, administrators, and district personnel sitting in his room, watching him teach.  We joke that he’s the “dog and pony show” for the school.  If distinguished visitors come to the campus, the first place they’re taken to is Mr. Gordon’s room to show how great our students are.  The secret is that it isn’t the students who are great, it’s the teacher.

Mr. Gordon is always available to discuss classroom management, teaching techniques, different lesson plans and tactics to use with individual students.  He’s ready to help new teachers and veteran teachers who get burned out.  He’s not always perfect in his dealing with students, as he would be quick to tell you.  In fact, he has plenty of students he doesn’t care for though you couldn’t tell it by watching him.  He doesn’t play favorites, not ever.  Good students who work hard love him.  Lazy students, brown nosers and overly emotional teenage girls tend to dislike him. He can usually win over the lazy students, but he doesn’t bother with the other two.

Mr. Gordon has won awards and has never had to look for a teaching job.  Every job he’s gotten, someone has offered it to him based on his reputation.  After years of teaching in Title I schools with desperately poor students, he’s now teaching in an extremely expensive private school in the suburbs of a major city.  It's not easier, he says - he still has to push students to work past what they think are their limitations. 

He’s a credit to his profession.  So I hate him.

I’m not jealous of him, not really – well, not much.  Mr. Gordon has taught much longer than I have, so he has the benefit of more experience.  He’s also had the benefit of having incredible mentors to help him through.  Also, the vast majority of Mr. Gordon’s administrators have been helpful and supportive of his goals and innovations.

I hate him because it all seems so effortless to him.  He doesn’t stress over how he’s going to teach this or that.  He doesn’t get nervous or upset in confrontational parental conferences – in fact, he says he never has!  Mr. Gordon doesn’t seem to question whether teaching is worthwhile and if he's making a difference.  He says he’s never burned out by the end of the year.  Summers are usually spent teaching more classes.

“I’m good at one thing, and that’s teaching.  Why would you begrudge me that?” he once asked me jokingly when I told him how much I resented him for it.  I don’t resent him for it.  I resent the fact that it seems so much harder for me and that I don’t know if I’ll ever be as effective in the classroom as he is. 

Still, that doesn’t keep me from texting or emailing him regularly to pick his brain about something I need to know.  It doesn’t stop me from visiting his classroom and watching him teach.  And when students talk about the best teacher they’ve ever had, I always think about Mr. Gordon.  I wish that someday they’ll have a teacher like him, even if I can’t be him yet.