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For the Love of Teaching
And Other Reasons Teachers Do What They Do
Interview Portraits by Ira D. Shull

From “Connection” (continued)

I think what I’ve experienced in life is very much like the cave analogy in Plato. I got up, and I saw that there was a light, and I was determined to go back and explain it to other people even if they resisted. And that’s just what Plato said would happen when you try to show them a light—they’re going to fight you, they’re not going to want to see it. Sometimes I’m not as tolerant as other people think I might be, and Plato said that also happens to you, because you’ve seen the light and you don’t do very well in the dark. That’s why I teach. I know what the boys are going through, not absolutely, but I have a good idea because I went through it myself.
We had a boy who came here years ago and died of cancer at twenty-one. When he died, I wrote a poem. It’s called ‘Sand Castle’ and it goes, ‘I took so much pride/and now he has died./Make another,/make another./Why?/All will be washed away./But, oh, how he could play/and he always had something to say./It was he/who was perfect pay.’ Just working with him was worth every bit of my life. And when he died, it was like watching a sand castle get washed away. When he came here, he was a bed wetter, he swore like a trooper, he caused more trouble than you could ever possibly imagine. And yet within him was a core of life, and you knew that when all that other stuff faded away, he was going to be one phenomenally beautiful person. And he made it.
Life is all attitudinal. It comes down to deciding, ‘Are you gonna get up and go . . . ?’ And that’s what I try to do in my classroom. I project energy; I project enthusiasm; I project life. I’m an artist and my canvas is my class. What I produce depends on those boys, and my interaction with them. And just like every artist, I make every stroke count. Every little line is important for me, and every stroke, and every aspect of what I’m doing with them.
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