The high point of the film As Good As It Gets occurs when the Jack Nicholson character tells his favorite waitress, "You make me want to be a better man."
I'm not Jack Nicholson, but I have a student this semester who makes me want to be a better teacher.
Often it's the poor students who push me to improve: Why isn't she getting this? Should I explain it another way, or come up with an activity that will make it more clear? And hey, maybe the whole class could benefit from that activity....
Poor students can reveal where I need to improve, but this semester I have an amazing student whose reading, writing, and analytical skills are so advanced that I frequently want to apologize for the elementary level of class discussion, and I keep asking myself: How can I lift the rest of the class to a higher level? Should I ask different kinds of questions or come up with an activity that will press them to excel?
I dream of the day when I can teach a classroom full of the kind of excellent student who makes me want to be a better teacher, especially during a week when I've been rendered speechless by a colleague who told me our students shouldn't be required to take literature classes because they get plenty of literature in high school and what can we offer that's any different?
I tell myself that my colleague is wrong, that what we do here stretches students in ways they've never dreamed of in high school, but what if I'm deluding myself? What if he's right? What if literary analysis is an unnecessary skill that will soon go the way of the dinosaur and foreign language study? In other words, What if this is as good as it gets?
Then I have only two options: quit and find another way to earn a living (I could always go back to waitressing!) or keep teaching the students we have and hope they keep inspiring me to be a better teacher.
For today, I'm choosing plan B. I'm not making any promises about tomorrow.