I’ve heard that many people who struggled as students are attracted to teaching.

Now, I can see how my checkered scholastic career prepared me to tutor and teach college students. For example, it’s important for teachers to empathize with students who are having difficulty. Hey, I remember what it’s like to find the material incomprehensible.

This is especially true for my ESL students, whose first language is Spanish, French or Chinese. For them, English is tortuous to speak and impossible to write. I can relate. I found foreign languages so daunting that I carefully avoided learning any Spanish or French. This has served me well, as it forces my students to converse with me in English.

Now, you would think having a former class clown like me in a teaching position would be a little like the fox guarding the hen house. That’s exactly the way it is. It takes a fox to detect slacking, recognize sloppy work and, worse, plagiarism. You can’t cheat a former cheater.

However, it does go against my nature to develop a syllabus, plan assignments and grade papers at my French college. I feel like I parachuted behind enemy lines. I was always against that rule stuff in school, now I’m the one imposing them. I’m finding, though, that the more structured and demanding I am, the better the students respond.

My lack of formal education has also been a plus. Rather than obtaining advanced degrees, I spent a quarter-century in the trenches of journalism. I find that students appreciate real world experience and insight. (I’ve invited a number of Forest Park entrepreneurs to address my French students and they’ve been a rousing success). I also think of Pulitzer Prize winning author Frank McCourt.

Though he never graduated from high school, the Irish immigrant somehow landed a job teaching high school English on Staten Island. McCourt learned English composition along with his students. He found innovative ways to reach them, like having them compose and read children’s books to elementary students. I also have the ability to think outside the box, having not spent much time inside.

So, when it comes to teaching, higher education can be over-rated. I think the most-important quality for a teacher is a desire to help students. This urge can be stronger in someone who knows the pain of struggling. It can also give the teacher more patience in dealing with students who aren’t getting it.

I have a strong desire for my students to improve their writing skills. It’s maddening, sometimes, to correct their papers but gradually they’re learning how to use prepositions and verbs correctly. So far, teaching and tutoring have been the most challenging and satisfying jobs I’ve ever had.

By the way, I’m not completely down on higher education and I’m glad that many successful students also gravitate to teaching. Someone has to teach calculus.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball...