I have a classroom. It’s in the basement, but there are some windows. There are desks and boards and enough space for a ton of books. I don’t want more. I am a teacher, a classroom teacher, a job title I am likely to hold on my first and last day of working in education. I don’t want more. Everything I do is hard enough to last me awhile, rewarding enough that I couldn’t wish for better. My writing is going well. Really well, really. Writing is mainly how I interact with the world and understand my place in it. All I’ve ever needed was a place and time to write some stuff. I don’t want more. I’ve found myself an audience and have worked hard to keep from quantifying it. Some people read my things when I write them, sometimes lots of people. I don’t want more, I don’t. I don’t need more. And I wrote this book, and all I wanted was for some people to read it, that’s it, and they have, many more than anyone thought might read it this far in. I don’t need more, I don’t. And then I see books doing much better than mine, and I know I haven’t done enough. I think about the millions and millions that have never read it, will never read it or even hear about it, and what I’ve done feels small. So small. These little pieces online, they flare up and are shared a little and skimmed over and then burn out, are both always there but really gone forever, and it’s not enough. But writing is only a piece of what I do. I write about teaching, sure, but my work teaching is actually really separate. I teach. I get to teach. It isn’t what I expected it would be, is both better and worse, more frustrating and more powerful than I had imagined. The writing, the speaking, the audience, the attention, it could all go away, really, and as long as I could still teach, as long as I could keep the years I have taught, I wouldn’t need more.
I have a hundred-and-whatever new students I will meet in a few weeks. That is enough. I have a thousand-or-whatever former students, world-beaters of all kinds. They are enough. A former student recently wrote a
response to Charlottesville, linking it to anti-Semitism they had faced throughout their life. They were scared to post it under their own name, and picked me as a safe person to ask to post for them. That is enough. That is more than enough. Also, I think of some of the students I’ve failed, of some of the ways I’ve failed all of them. I’ve tried to teach. I have tried hard to teach well, and it hasn’t been enough, not nearly enough. I have this classroom. It looks pretty boring, like almost hilariously boring, but I haven’t really set it up yet. I will add a bunch of books in and a small amount of favorite student art from the past. I’ll sprinkle a few old typewriters around, because I think they’re pretty and because I teach English. It’s not much, but I’ll leave a lot of space for student words and images. It will be enough. I’ll have a year, like I have every year, where some days feel like I have won something amazing, and some days will feel like I have lost far too much. I will have a year, another year, of spilling just about every bit of energy and inspiration and effort I can into this work. I will fail often, I will succeed sometimes. It won’t be enough, yet I won’t need more.
Photo of Tom's classroom.
Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called "IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching."