They are failing. I am failing them. Some of them, at least. On a profound level, I sense that I am selling my students short and it hurts. I do not know how to reach the slower ones without holding back the quicker ones. I do not know how to engage the more indifferent ones without risking alienating the ones who already care.
When I read bad freshmen papers at the beginning of the fall, I blame the entire secondary education establishment. When I read bad papers at the end of the semester, after months of my coaching and exhortation, I cannot help but blame myself.
Some days I am good. But I could always be better. What opportunities did I miss today to inspire, to draw connections, to push someone to excel, to save someone from falling between the cracks? I am a perfectionist, an idealist, and a relatively new educator, and those compound my sense of woe; but there is a true sense in which this is an impossible job.
I cannot reach everyone, much less equally well. In my current capacity, I teach two courses that blend history, philosophy, theology, and literature. I cannot correct everyone’s insufficient grasp of geography, fragmented sense of history, incoherent worldview, and sloppy writing. I cannot convince everyone that it is worth agreeing to disagree and learning more fully the nature of the disagreement. It is my job to try anyway. I must extend an offer to coach all of my students in honing their intellects, even though I know that not all will accept that offer.
Attaining perfection in this job is impossible and I am painfully aware of that impossibility. When I no longer feel the pain, then I will know that I am burnt out and have utterly lost my sense of calling as a teacher, or I am in Elysium.