I will not say that my first year teaching was a roller coaster. Not only is that cliche (is it cliche to say something is cliche?), but it would be a lie. My first year teaching was a nonstop train to crazy town. I could look in the mirror at night and count the new hairs that had turned grey.
I don’t think I will ever forget that first year crew of students that I had. They were a total mess, so they all fit right in our class of misfits. One middle school student had never set foot in a classroom. A couple had just crossed the desert alone to find distant relatives that might give them shelter. One had just met her mom for the first time at age 12. Another spent his first week loudly sobbing as we all tried in our own ways to give him some comfort.
There are a few things I need to write down so I can be sure to never forget them. The twelve year old girl – model student – always clinging to every word that I said trying to soak up anything and everything. I wanted to be more like her. I wanted to go back in time and be that kind of student when I was her age. I want to be more like her now. I had not had time to get to know her fully when I found her spiral notebook she left on top of the printer one day – a letter to her grandmother written in Spanish. I am admitting my evil doing here because what she wrote touched me so much. I had no idea. She left her grandmother in Honduras to come to the United States and live with her mother. She had never even met her mother. Her mother lived here her whole life with the girl’s sisters. This girl, this amazing 12 year old girl that inspired me to be a better learner, was the one that was sent away. In her letter she described how she missed her grandmother’s hugs and warmth and how her mother didn’t give her that. I learned that day that some students don’t need my knowledge as much as they need my love.
Teenage boys, or girls for that matter, are not the easiest human beings to love. One might think that teaching them would make that fact more salient, but I have found it’s the opposite. I have a horrible memory – seriously my mind is a blank before age 18 and beyond – but I know that I will never forget this simple request from a 15 year old boy. “Ms. – will you say to me ‘good job’?” I had just finished praising another student for his or her great work that day. I don’t remember if this boy participated in class that day at all, but I do remember that his request was so sincere that regardless of what he did he deserved to hear those two words. It might be the first time he would hear them. Let me remind you – 15 year old boys do not typically go around requesting to hear “good job” from adults. I learned that day that sometimes a couple of simple, kind words can do more than hours of lesson preparation (and that teenage boys are not all bad).
I could go on, but basically, what I want to say, is that my most important lessons were learned from my students. That should probably go without saying but they aren’t the ones that I send a large sum of money to each month. I’m thankful for my education. Knowledge is so important. Human connection is more important. Always. Every. Time.