Being a Teacher

Today I ended my fourth week of teaching by hosting Saturday school for 8 precious teenagers who were willing to wake up early on the weekend and dedicate three hours of their day practicing skills that they need in order to pass the STAAR test. Some of them waited at various bus stops in the freezing cold early this morning. Most of them were not wearing jackets when they showed up. Every one of them walked into my classroom with a smile, and they were even so kind as to laugh at my terrible teacher jokes and my especially terrible impression of Forrest Gump.

To say that the past four weeks have been as wonderful as today would be a lie. To say that the past four weeks have been tough would be a gross understatement. Some days have made me question everything from my own empathetic capabilities to the state of humanity as a whole. I’ve had sleepless nights recounting negative encounters with students and going over and over in my head what I might have done wrong. I’ve woken up after 9 hours of beautiful sleep only to experience instant nausea with the realization that I would try once again, and inevitably fail once again, to maintain classroom management with my two most challenging periods. I’ve spent almost every bit of free time writing lesson plans, coming up with activities, and frantically googling how to be the best (insert expletive) teacher a wretched newbie like myself can possibly hope to be.

Despite the behavior issues, the sleep deprivation, and the fact that I often come home in an emotional coma, I find myself completely addicted to teaching. Yes, having a student mouth off to me about how their sentence fragment is, in fact, a complete sentence is annoying. Yes, being blatantly ignored by students who are high as a kite when I’m trying to instruct a classroom is infuriating. Yes, watching two girls get out of their seats and start yelling at one another is mildly terrifying. Yes, hearing about the things that some of my students have to deal with at home is emotionally taxing. However, I find myself feeding off the annoyance and frustration because they make every day a challenge: my goal every day is to sell the knowledge of English literature to my students. And, that fear of what my students might do melts away when I see my kid who lost two friends to gang violence last week smile this week because he got an answer right on his benchmark test.

It’s only been four weeks, and already I feel a deep sense of protection for my students—even the ones who say they don’t like me. Already, I tear up when I think about the things they’re dealing with and how desperately I want them to make it to graduation. Even their petty grievances against my audacity to assign actual work makes me laugh fondly over them and the way their ridiculous little minds work. Sure, I find myself shaking at times when I’m writing a detention slip because some punk spit his gum out of his mouth and directly onto the floor of my classroom. But, even in those moments, I don’t see that kid as the devil incarnate; he’s just a stupid kid stupidly testing boundaries, and I will carry my unrequited love for him even if he decides to spit the gum in my face next time.

Perhaps four weeks is too short a time to conclude that I was made to do this job. After all, I tend to be a human pendulum swinging back and forth between liking and absolutely detesting one thing or another. And, you know what? I think that’s okay when it comes to teaching. In fact, I reserve the right to hate teaching sometimes because sometimes teaching asks too much and gives too little. For the majority of the time, however, I expect not to be overcome by the struggle of being a teacher. I choose instead to trust that the growth I’ve seen so far in myself and in my students will only continue as I keep walking, crawling, and (at times) dragging myself down this wonderfully difficult road.

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