I am awed by this work

My current status: 9 weeks into student teaching, up to my ears in student papers to grade, totally sleep deprived, but also totally fulfilled.

I look up from a student’s autobiographical piece about her difficult relationship with her overly demanding mother and her resulting debilitating insecurities which she has learned to overcome through creative writing, and I cannot help but exclaim to myself: Teaching is such an amazing profession!!!

Why? You get to look deeply into and become an integral part of the lives of 80-100+ individuals every year, and see them and know them more closely than you would most of your regular acquaintances or even friends. The range of people you meet and come to know in this way is an incredible mix (in terms of cultural/family background, life experiences, interests/beliefs/ambitions/fears/struggles/etc.) that you could never have chosen or found for yourself.

You get to pour into their lives and are challenged to love and help them unconditionally every day, even though they may never reciprocate, or worse, even if they begrudge you for not doing enough or for being too strict, or simply give you attitude and don’t do their work. Still, you get to see most of them grow and change, some in little ways, some in unbelievable strides.

You get to learn from them and see the depths of their kindness, their delight in little things, their frustrations and loneliness, their insecurities, their strengths and resilience and unbelievable maturity. Fourteen years old, and yet they have already gone through so much more than you can imagine. Your heart breaks at the injustice and unkindness and unexpected trials they have had to face, but it warms at the little connections they like to make from literature to life, and the optimism and grit they show on a day to day basis. They do quirky things like buy jewelry to commemorate a book they like and you think it’s hilarious, but you also rejoice in their apparent interest in what you’ve been teaching. They write outrageous similes and metaphors that make you laugh and cringe alternately (e.g. “The door to the high school creaked open like a screaming child” or “My mom is a warm, freshly baked muffin”), but in the end you are just proud of them for trying.

They are at the same time somehow both more and less than your family and friends combined: you love them like your own children (as far as I can imagine), you talk about them constantly and think of them as your kids, and every waking moment is spent trying to figure out how to get Will to pay attention, how to get Angie to turn in some homework, or how to get Ying to publish her amazing work; yet after this one year they may never come back, never really recall much of what you’ve said to them, never consider you as anything more than one of the many teachers they’ve encountered on the long journey through their obligatory education.

But it’s still so worth it to see the smiles, the eyes lighting up, the ecstatic “Yes!” of a girl who worked really hard on her last paper and achieved the results she desired, to hear the Chinese girl (an English language learner) who never spoke at all confidently presenting on a complex topic in front of a large class, enunciating each syllable of the four sentences she painstakingly crafted during break with your support. It’s worth it to finally see Chris come to class, to see Emma proud of something that she’s written, to see Yur make a friend. It’s worth it for the realizations that strike a few of them here and there that good things can come out of the bad, that yes, 9th grade is difficult, but that nothing that happens here will be the end of the world and that life’s challenges can be overcome gradually. I love seeing them realize that they can connect to other people and break out of their shells of insecurity and fear, to share their stories with one another and to find that everyone is almost equally scared and in need of a friend.

I love helping my students to connect literature to their lives, and to find their own voices in a world that is confusing, stressful, and often intimidating. Some of them already have, and some are still developing, incredible, unique voices with which to tell their stories, and an astounding depth of reflection and optimism with which to write the next few pages of their lives. If I can touch those pages with just a hint of hope, love, and confidence, I will have done my job well.

[If you want to know more details about what I’m doing week to week as a student teacher, go to my school-focused blog, schooldaydreams.wordpress.com]

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