ONE TEACHER’S ALPHABET
J is for Just
I might do well to give some attention to the word “just” as I go about my teaching duties, for, though it seems to be an insignificant word, it can carry surprising meaning for a teacher. For instance, I don’t have to be a perfect teacher for 48 minutes of every class period throughout the year; I just have to be a perfect teacher right now, at whatever present moment I happen to be teaching. Teaching is not really about the year or the semester or the week; it’s just about now. The big question is: Can I just focus my attention on this one moment in the classroom? The word “just” can also be used to make a statement stronger, as in these declarations I’ve often made to myself: “Today I just can’t seem to teach effectively” (probably because teaching is one of the most complex jobs on the planet), or “Teaching is just too complicated for me” (probably because it is rocket science). I often feel that I just don’t understand teenagers (or much of anything), and that perhaps I’ll just never be a genuinely good teacher. However, I comfort myself with another use of the word “just” – to suggest that something is not earth-shakingly important. I remind myself that I’m just teaching kids how to read and write a little better, not how to live good lives. Far from revealing to them the mysteries of the universe, I just want to show them a few simple tricks to use when interpreting literature and composing essays. On their essays, I just make a few relatively inconsequential comments, because I’m just one high-school English teacher in a measureless and unfathomable universe. Those simple truths are always just what I need.