It’s been exactly one year since my last post.
For 365 days, I had nothing to say.
When I look back at the space between that last post and this one, I can’t help but be grateful that I’m here as opposed to there. At the end of a painful journey, as opposed to the beginning.
Last year was incredibly difficult. The professional challenges I faced as a teacher left me feeling dehumanized, discouraged, and depressed. The strangest part of it was that I didn’t even recognize that I was unhappy. I thought it was normal, and normal just happened to be miserable.
I didn’t recognize it then, but I started to view my entire life through the lens of those feelings. Everything was distortion, ugliness, and dred.
Since then, I’ve driven to the Pacific Ocean and back, I’ve dyed my hair pink and then purple, and I’ve started to understand the importance of self-care.
I’m starting to see beauty again. I smile more. And I’m happy.
I’m twelve days into the school year and I love my job again. The feeling of elation I experienced last week while teaching highlighted just how off kilter everything was last year.
Hopefully it’s not another year before I write again.
Hopefully I’m able to find joy in each day.
Hopefully I never forget the bad days so I can be grateful for the better ones.
The only writing I did in the blink that was summer was the anxious penning of tentative lesson plans and scribbles in a travel journal damp with humidity.
Some things have changed (I’ve been to Africa).
Some things haven’t (I want and don’t have a kitten).
My absence from social media and namely, this blog, has been purposeful. The if-you-can’t-say-anything-nice variety of purposeful.
Traveling always jars my perspective in a way that can make me discontent with my current situation.
The same thoughts play on repeat. If my students could simply glimpse what life is like for students in Liberia or India, they would would be overcome with gratitude for the free education that is handed to them. I get so frustrated in those frequent moments when I’m fighting, trying to convince them to try, to learn.
But I’ve worked to reconcile these situations.
My students have every opportunity to succeed and every excuse not to.
The children in Liberia are so thirsty for opportunity they literally cling to every morsel of hope they can get their hands on.
You can’t quantify dreams, hope, or pain.
I owe it to my current students to earn their respect and make learning accessible. I don’t know their stories but I know their struggles are real.
I had a great summer but it was so brief that it’s taken me 3 weeks of being back to garner any excitement for school.
But I am indeed back and I am ready.
A year ago today, I signed my contract and started teaching, fresh off a plane from India.
In that time I’ve had 540 students come through my classroom. I’ve graded approximately 1245 papers. Gotten 14 paper cuts. Overslept once. Played hookie twice.
They say your first year of teaching is hard.
They say it’s nearly impossible.
They say you’ll never forget your first students and you’ll change lives.
I’m too wrapped up in this life-consuming profession to know if those things are true.
But I do know there are days when I love it and days when I hate it.
I know it’s not easy, but it is far from being the hardest job in the world.
And I know I love 2 hour delays almost as much as I love snowdays.
In this house, there has been lots of laughing, eating, smiling, hugging, friends, teacher talking, and love, love love.
But mostly, it’s just been about cookies.
Me: I feel motivated! I’m ready to conquer the world and be who I am!
Bearded fella: You mean after you nap?
This is the story of last week.
Tomorrow I will meet my new students. All 140 of them. (I’ll have 26 of the same sophomores).
And I’m nervous.
My incoming students have enormous shoes to fill. The kids I had last semester were incredible. I loved every second I got to spend with them.
They left my class wanting to change the world and believing they had the tools to do it. I said goodbye to them knowing it was true, they were capable.
The thing is, I’m not certain I can make this happen again. I’m not sure how it happened the first time, but I think I may have narrowed it down to a few steps.
STEP 1 Trust: I haven’t been teaching long, but long enough to learn that they key is trust.
In order for my students to learn from me, they have to trust me. Trust that I’m going to do the things I say I’m going to. Trust that I’m going to be there every day. Trust that I’m not going to humiliate to demean them. Trust that I genuinely want to help them improve and I care about who they are as a person.
STEP 2 Belief: A student has to be motivated for learning to occur. In order for that to happen, I have to convince them that they are worth the investment of time and effort. They have to believe in themselves.
STEP 3 Love: I don’t get to go to work, go through the motions and get the job done. I have to do it with love. I have to get attached. I have to care. I have to feel their successes and I have to endure the disappointment when they give up. That’s what makes it real for me and I think that authenticity is a necessity. I’m not just playing a part, I’m their teacher and they deserve the real deal.
What else is there?
I’m sure there is more to it and I just don’t know it yet.
What do you think? What does it require for a teacher to be successful?