Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #170
The Myth of Teacher (Part 1)
On rainy summer days, my grandmother used to snatch a title from her bookcase, sit down in her recliner, nestle me in her lap, and open new worlds to me. It only took a few lines before I forget about the dark skies outside while she read Watership Down, Huckleberry Finn, The Hobbit, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Of all the stories she read, though, one has stayed with me: the myth of Sisyphus from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. His eternal punishment was almost too much for my seven-year-old mind the first time Granny recounted his tale. Sisyphus is cursed to lug a boulder up a steep mountain, only to deliver it to the top and have it plummet back to the bottom. For all of his labor, he is forever toiling in futility.
Even the eternal lake of fire the nuns frightened us with at catechism didn't horrify me the way Sisyphus’ fate did. I couldn’t imagine a punishment worse than to work so hard, only to suffer failure after failure . . . for all eternity.
As a high school English teacher, I am well acquainted with his plight. Don’t get me wrong, there are dozens of moments every class period where I experience moments of great success. There is the satisfied smile on a student’s face when she opens up her research paper and sees the “A” scrawled across the top. There is the wide-eyed shock on several students’ faces when they reach the conclusion of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and realize what it means for the winner. There is the debate that erupts in class over a podcast featuring Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation, when the class realizes the author’s title is referring to their generation. These moments are sublime; they keep me in this profession. Despite these moments, though, I know that I will ultimately fail in some way with every one of my students. I am a real life version of Sisyphus.