As an elementary school student, I was a control mechanism, a pawn.
It didn’t take teachers long to realize that I was both too passive to misbehave and too polite to mention my boredom, so when students were placed in pairs, I was always set within elbow length of That Kid: the runny-nosed girl with no friends, the too-tough-for-fifth-grade bully, the under-understood student who smelled enough like body odor to send the majority of my peers away gagging. I, who didn’t have the type of vocabulary to express that kind of stuff, was to make the students understand her math homework.
“I kind of like it,” I confessed to my mom. “I figured out what she thought was confusing and then we cleared it up.”
I had been complaining about not being allowed to sit with Jolene Hockenberry so we could chat about the Baby Sitters’ Club books, but my mom’s eyes brightened over my after-school snack of toast with butter and cinnamon.
“That’s all that teaching is,” she said — a teacher herself. “You go from the known to the unknown.”
Years later, long after I had disregarded education as a career possibility only to unearth it again, I would sit in university-level teaching courses to hear terms like scaffolding — the process of breaking down information for students into chunks that build on one another — and be lectured on the importance of knowing your audience. And I’d call my mom after class to thank her — not just for teaching but also for modeling how drastically simple it can be to educate others: you know, you speak, and you listen.