First of all, I’d like to apologize to every teacher who had me in a classroom. If I had known what you were going through, I wouldn’t have made your job more difficult. I feel this remorse, because I have newfound admiration and sympathy for teachers.
It comes from being an English professor to eighty French students. After class, I feel the way I do after I play with my grandson: happy but exhausted. And I still have to pick up his toys, or in the case of my students, correct their papers. Teaching has introduced me to a new kind of tired.
Lucky for me, I have three sisters and two daughters who have experienced this fatigue. They give me tips on how to avoid burnout. One daughter was losing her sanity, so she stopped bringing home papers to correct.
I know that correcting papers doesn’t sound so awful. But it’s very draining. Watching sports, while circling mistakes, takes some of the sting out of it. Plus, I thoroughly enjoy the content of the essays. My French students have wonderful imaginations and profound insights. They write with great passion. If they could just use the correct prepositions and verb tenses, their papers would be perfect.
I can’t blame them for struggling with English grammar, with its arbitrary rules and exceptions. Native-born Americans have a tough time with it. I’m currently reading a book written by a highly-educated American, who’s making the same errors as my students. It makes me want to take out my red pen.
Papers aside, class time has been a blast. I begin each one by reading them a few of the great sentences they wrote. Then I read a list of words I’ve never seen before. I give them handouts to help with trouble areas. I see gradual improvement with some students and dramatic leaps by others. I’ve had two students hand-in mistake-free rough drafts, something I could never do.
Apart from the writing, they appreciate presentations about Chicago history and a field trip to the Haymarket monument. They also enjoy group activities: setting up their own imaginary companies and writing to potential investors and customers. They also compose and perform plays that take place in the business world. Performances are followed by an “Academy Awards” presentation. Guest speakers have also been a treat.
I sent out an SOS for guest speakers a few weeks ago but didn’t get a single response. So, I went door-to-door down Madison Street and recruited five entrepreneurs to address the students. I really appreciate it when local business people take the time to come downtown to share their success stories.
Teaching full-time is a challenge but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wish I’d started a little earlier in life but in a way my whole experience has prepared me for this. Detective work taught me how to connect with strangers and I must have learned something about English composition from a quarter century of writing columns.
Before I forget, I want to apologize to Mother Gabriel. I didn’t mean to hit you in the back with that spitball.
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 and strolling through cemeteries.