A reporter asks: Would I like to teach?

A Monitor writer discovers how it feels to spend the day in front of a classroom.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Do you want to be a teacher?

It didn't take long for an earnest sixth-grader to ask the very question I'd been mulling over on the drive to Heath School that morning. It came from Sofia, during language arts.

This was shortly after we'd "churned butter." (Students in Mr. Miller and Ms. Stein's sixth-grade class - also known as 6MS - greet each other by latching onto the thumbs of the person beside them and making a stirring motion while saying good morning.)

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Smiling, I suggested to Sofia that she ask again at the end of the day, hinting that the answer might be affirmative - if the class treated me gently over the next six hours.

I wasn't ready to admit that the answer had always been an emphatic no.

Change of heart

I've been writing about education for more than a year now. In that time, I've perched in my share of Lilliputian-size chairs; spoken with students, teachers, and parents; and read books on classroom quandaries.

But never had I seriously thought about teaching - until this brisk spring morning when I found myself before an adopted class of 18, participating in a local school's teach-for-a-day program.

And I have to admit, I loved every minute of it.

Change of story

Neither my editor nor I had anticipated this when she agreed to let me go to spend a day as a sixth-grade teacher. The story we'd thought I'd write about my day was more along the lines of "The grueling six hours I spent at the helm of a sixth-grade class."

Instead, I enjoyed every moment.

In the morning I taught an impromptu journalism lesson, which included helping kids drum up story ideas. A piece covering World Cup soccer? Sure. A first-person narrative from the perspective of a pet dog? Why not.

At recess I played basketball. Later in the day I introduced a daunting string of spelling words - words with fancy Latin roots like "vanguard" and "prescient."

But my favorite part of the day was reading aloud from "The Landry News," a book about a precocious fifth-grader who starts an inflammatory classroom newspaper.

When the class's attention wandered too far, I posed questions: How might Cara Landry have deduced, for example, that a classmate's mother was PTA secretary? Or that another classmate loved cats?

I called on those students who seemed least attentive. Their responses were ingenious.

What made it so great

Overall, it was a day brimming with what draws people to teaching: curious, animated students; flexible material; nurturing colleagues. All without any of the challenges: tedious planning sessions, disciplinary problems, bureaucratic paperwork, or the looming cloud of standardized tests.

And this set in a placid and affluent Boston suburb, at a school where engaged parents flood teachers' in-boxes with inquisitive e-mails.

A few days before I was to teach, a colleague plainly asked: What will the kids get out of your visit?

It wasn't a bad question, especially at a time when the phrase "highly qualified teacher" has been inscribed into federal law.

The president of the Brookline teachers' union, which has organized "Educator for a Day" for the past nine years, describes it as a way to showcase the schools that they are so proud of, to get the community into the classroom, and to offer them a window onto the education process.

Besides, he says, the students seem to get a kick out of it. And, by drawing noneducators into their rooms, he hopes, they will be left with a sense of how important education is in the world beyond their school walls.

As my day with 6MS wound down, Mr. Miller suggested that we - my pupils and I - bid each other farewell before the final-period stampede. I asked if there were questions. Sofia raised her hand.

Now do you think you want to be a teacher?

I told her I'd enjoyed my day immensely, but that I also love my current job, in part, because it allows me to enter classrooms like hers. I said that maybe, if I ever get tired of what I do, I'd consider teaching.

You could be like Ms. With, she offered. Ms. With is a second-career fourth-grade teacher down the hall. She used to work for The Boston Globe.

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