THE BLOG
01/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Pure Joy of Teaching

(From 1998, three years after returning from "retirement")

In my novel God-Intoxicated: Becoming Paranoid I often speak of "weightlessness." As an amateur athlete, actor, artist, writer, and even many times in academics, everything was in such synch or "flow" that I was in a state of altered consciousness, of mild to strong ecstasy. I was literally out-of-my-body (some said out-of-my mind).

When I learned how to meditate, I was able to create that same wondrous sense and even experience it with greater clarity with increasing frequency. With my wife I was fortunate to also experience this "loss of self", whether it was during our most intimate moments or just the pleasure of awakening and seeing her beauty as she slept. With our children this same feeling of completeness occurred with great regularity. We enjoyed being and interacting with them as well as observing them. An inexpensive way to be thrilled and filled with joy.

I never expected to have these types of experiences as a teacher. In fact being a teacher was the farthest from any of my original goals. My teachers and professors expected me to become a professional athlete or actor or writer or a psychiatrist, but certainly not an elementary teacher; how mundane, a task anyone could do.

When I graduated UCLA with a BA in Psychology, I discovered I couldn't get any kind of decent paying job as a psychologist. I'd been a therapist in the Air Force, but that on-the-job training didn't count for anything. I could have made a very comfortable living by joining my (ex) father-in-law's business. That was even worse than being a teacher. The professors at UCLA had convinced many of us that all UCLA grads, because of our allegedly great brains, had high callings. We were to become leaders - so, me, an elementary teacher - nonsense!

My best friend was an elementary school teacher and he convinced me to teach while I pursued my higher calling through an advanced degree in psychology. I could earn enough to support my wife and baby girl. My in-laws never introduced me as a teacher, but as a psychologist in training. They were not proud of my modest and poorly paid profession either.

However, before I completed my Master's degree, I was hooked. Even while I was going through the traumas and pains of separation and divorce, I was a happy man teaching. In their eyes, my class saw a different person. To them I was John Elway, Robert Redford, Picasso, Bob Hope, and Gene Kelly, even Albert Einstein.

I laughed, sang, danced, drew, played all sports, and just talked and enjoyed being with them. I was doing all the things I liked to do, plus I was getting paid for doing them. Each year I had a new extended family that respected, admired, and loved me - and it was reciprocated. In return I found increasingly effective ways to enhance their self-confidence, self-esteem, and personal responsibility by increasing their real competencies. Each day was interesting and the best compliment was how often they would say, "Is it time to go home - already?"

Oh, it was not all fun and games, (especially dealing with the rigidity of the theories, policies, and mandated materials that poured down from the hierarchy) and there were times that I doubted I could continue, but the vast majority of time I loved teaching. My little people charged, energized, and delighted me every day in countless ways.

Still, my inflated ego, and the low regard elementary teachers, especially men, received from the public nagged at me. So, I thought of myself as a psychologist who chose to work in a classroom. Also, I spent my spare time writing and I believed that someday I would get the recognition, the fame and fortune I deserved! My profession had embarrassed my ex-wife and her family, but my present wife, Marie, had always been proud of my teaching and me.

What are the pure joys of teaching? Some examples.

This year, in just six weeks, over ten of my children who had been reading at first and second grade levels were reading at high third and fourth grade -- using the materials and philosophy I explain in A Complete Reading Room Program.

Last year a child who had spent two miserable years as a scapegoat, grew academically and gained enough self-respect to be accepted without acting stupidly.

When I had my At-Risk program I came in on Saturday mornings and had counseling and teaching sessions mainly with teenage girls who were on the streets. I helped several to get back to school or to work on their GED diploma. For ten years I interviewed and or taught hundreds of children and teens and was fulfilled as their lives become better as they became more competent socially and academically.

For forty years I constantly saw the results of my concern and compassion and I received even more than I gave. Because of the great differences in children and my classes I was motivated to read, research, and try new ideas, methods, and materials. Seldom was I bored as new challenges appeared as well as possible solutions. It was fun, exciting, and rewarding.

And there were the peak moments; the "flow" was there, a sense of "weightlessness" that made teaching a "calling" rather than a "job".

When Sue hit her first softball and was so astonished she froze until the class got her to run. The look on her face -- memorable.

When two of my allegedly retarded boys, after months of failure, finally learned how to divide, the look of appreciation was -- memorable.

When, after trying several different ways to teach, almost the entire class understood why we invert in division of fractions.

When Sam who had always stiffened when I put my arm around him, hugged me - and smiled. And later, when he'd slip and call me, "Dad". This happened (happens) with many a depressed or moody child; many who had been abused.

When after raging and nagging them about their lines and a horrendous "dress rehearsal," the cast makes few errors and the play is a resounding success.

When the class became so excited about a concept that they were on the chairs, the tables, and yelling to share their perspectives and ideas.

The countless assemblies when they sang, danced, performed in some way and I sat in the back, teary-eyed, and so proud that I couldn't speak, these were (are) the Pure Joys of Teaching. It is what makes me, at 66, still spring (well, roll) from bed eager to go to work.

I didn't become what I thought I should have, but rather I have been (am) a teacher. Except for being a parent, nothing is better!

To better understand in greater detail the joys I've experienced