“I’m a teacher, but they won’t let me teach – not the way I can. It’s just not worth it.” – Miss Shaw, the Wonder Years, Season 5
I recently binge watched the entire Wonder Years series. I’d say I teared up during about 80% of the episodes. But, I must reveal that Kevin, the main character, was just two years my senior. I’m talking the character, not the actor. So, all that 70s stuff, all those family issues, the clothes, the culture – that was my world.
Instead of my teen-self, one episode got to the heart of my teacher-self. Miss Shaw was an unconventional teacher. She loved what she was doing and it showed. The kids knew it and her fire lit them up. I’m not saying I agreed with all her methods. But, when she said, “…they won’t let me teach – not the way I can”, I felt like she was speaking for so many other teachers. I recently talked to a teacher who is certified and experienced in one thing and has a desire for it, but she is being forced to teach something else. That’s just sad.
I’ve been in four different school systems in the past few years as a substitute and I’ve seen the mindless test prep and the daily wasted hours in “study hall’ where maybe on a good day five kids were studying. I’ve been in middle schools where seventh graders can’t write a lucid paragraph; in high schools where students spent more time “googling” an answer on their phones than it would have taken to read the article in front of them to find the answer.
I’m not saying there is no good teaching. I have come across pockets of creativity and solid math lessons; I have met some very caring teachers. It’s not usually the teachers, but it’s the system, the “they” that Miss Shaw referred to, that is killing education in our country. And every June, there are teachers who decide, like Miss Shaw, “it’s just not worth it.”
“…So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way…” – from Both Sides Now by Judy Collins
I’ve seen teaching from both sides now; as a full-time teacher and as a substitute. I wish I knew how to make a change.
“Some people pass through your life and you never think about them again. Some you think about and wonder what ever happened to them. Some you wonder if they ever wonder what happened to you. And then there are some you wish you never had to think about again. But you do.” – The Wonder Years
There are many people who I think about and I wonder what happened to them. Like Christy who lived across the street. We played together when we were little and I was fascinated that her family ate real turtle soup. In high school she sometimes rode to school with me on days I was able to drive my mom’s car. And then there was her brother, who shot my brother just above the eye with a BB gun.
I wonder about Stephanie who got married and had a baby the year before she was in my wedding. I haven’t seen her since and that makes me sad. And Susan who left school before she graduated. We were so close our sophmore/junior years, and then we drifted apart.
And those I wish I never had to think about again? My second grade teacher, Mrs. Nash, who hit us with rolled up Weekly Readers. I don’t remember her ever smiling. My fourth grade teacher who humiliated me over a boy. Those two coworkers that liked to steal away my customers at Dillards.
Are there some who I wonder if they wonder about me? Sure. Maybe one day our paths will cross again.
FUN FACT: I own the 5-disc compilation box set under the title Music from ‘The Wonder Years in 1994 thanks to my daughter, Kat.
“There was a time when the world was enormous: spanning the vast, almost infinite boundaries of your neighborhood. The place where you grew up, where you didn’t think twice about playing on someone else’s lawn. The street was your territory that occasionally got invaded by a passing car. It was where you didn’t get called home until after it was dark. And all the people, and all the houses that surrounded you were as familiar as the things in your own room.” – The Wonder Years
The Wonder Years sums up my childhood in so many ways. We watched the show with our kids in the early 90s, but now I am seeing it once again with fresh eyes. I can hardly watch an episode without tearing up.
The place where I grew up was also one where we played on someone else’s lawn, in the street, in the woods. We knew most of the neighbors and I was babysitting for many of the younger kids by the time I was eleven. It was a time of Kick-the-Can under the street lights on summer nights, walking barefoot to the 7-11 on a street with no sidewalk and Trick-or-Treating without an adult, trading candy when we returned home.
We can’t go back except in memory, but we can go on. We can strive to make the years ahead “wonder” years for someone else.
FUN FACT: Winner Cooper and Becky Slater are sisters in real life