I’m writing this post a bit early. In 3 hours Hurricane Hermine lands south of me. Our lights are already flickering and power outages are expected. Who knows what the night will bring. So, I am getting ahead of the storm with my blog post. I am committed to 365 posts in a row. I had suspected I may have a few days where I would need to do a double post because of travel or family obligations. I just never expected that to come so soon in the process. Luckily I had most of today to reflect and write and now is just about as good a time as any to make this confession:
I never wanted to be a teacher.
It was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do with my life. Ever.
After a Humanities degree and an English degree I started teaching as a way to finance grad school. My dad told me it was the perfect job for me. I was able to be creative every day. But my first year was brutal. I took a job in a private inner city school. There was little to no support from the administration.No mentoring program. No professional development. No supplies. All the students were on scholarship and their home lives were challenging. Some of my fifth graders couldn’t add one digit numbers. Others had been born addicted to drugs. But I had high expectations for my kids and they knew it. I had nothing to lose. I thought teaching was a gig for just a few years. I pushed my students…hard. I didn’t let up. I rewarded them for their successes and I showed them I was invested in their success. It was that year that I learned the most important lesson in teaching: relationships are key. I could come up with the most amazing lessons and activities, but none of it mattered without the individual relationships I made with my students. I also let me students know I was learning right along with them. I made mistakes, plenty of them. I questioned my choices. I wondered if what I did even mattered, especially when it came to one of my my most difficult students. She was a smart girl, but troubled with a volatile home life. I could not count the number of times I pulled her aside to discuss poor choices she had made or encourage her to do better. I remember reminding her how smart she was and articulating my hopes for her. I never gave up on her. I pressed her often because I could see her potential. When the year ended and I moved on to another school I worried about what would become of her. Years later I ran into her at the grocery store. She was working at the register and recognized me right away. She expressed her appreciation for me. She was in high school at this point, the recipient of a scholarship to an elite private school in the area. She told me I never gave up on her and that my persistent encouragement inspired her to achieve more and reach the potential I saw in her as a fifth grader.
As a classroom teacher you always hope that what you say or do will get through to students. We don’t always see the end result of our work or the enduring impact we have on students. It’s part of what makes being an educator simultaneously the most difficult and the most rewarding job in the world. It’s the job I never thought I would have, but can’t imagine not doing.