This post originally appeared here, as I served as a Guest Blogger for McGraw-Hill Education. Honored to have been chosen…
“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” — Art Williams
It’s just not possible, I said to myself, over and over and over. While sitting at my desk after hitting submit on my last set of grades for the 2015-2016 school year, it truly set in that I had just finished my 18th year of teaching. 18 years. No longer would I be working with students who were even born when I first started this journey – and make no mistake about it, it’s definitely been a journey.
It was at this point that I also thought about just how much I’ve seen change through those 18 years – and without getting too sentimental, what I’m really referring to here is the change in me.
About 10 years ago I literally almost threw punches with a colleague who had the nerve to tell me that part of our job description was to be both a friend and a father to our students. I was on fire at this suggestion and, if my memory serves me correctly, I believe I actually laughed it away in order to deal with the stress associated with this debate. There was just no way that he could be correct in this line of thinking.
That’s not my job. I’m here to teach English and get them prepared for college, no more, no less. That’s the Spark Notes version of what I had myself convinced was my purpose. And I believed it wholeheartedly.
And then the massacre at Sandy Hook happened. It left me stunned. It left me searching for answers about just about everything. And it left me searching for a better understanding of what my purpose is as a teacher. I just couldn’t get it through my head that somebody could be driven to believe that nobody cared about him and that shooting up a school was a reasonable answer to anything.
We can argue about guns until we are blue in the face and our jugular veins are bulging from the side of our necks – or we can come to the realization that a way we can work to prevent these types of tragedies is by simply letting kids know how much we care about them, that what they do matters, that they aren’t alone.
My high school created an Advisory period three years ago (30 minutes, once a week) after we decided that we needed to build a better community within our school. We decided to try to be proactive, to mix students amongst grades, and to try to create a core group of kids who would have the chance to see that they’re going through many of the same things – that they aren’t on an island when they think it’s all coming down on them.
I was so excited about the possibilities that this period of time presented us. I had all of these mini-lessons planned. I couldn’t wait to get this going. And then we started – and I pretty much fell on my face. The kids didn’t want to be there. There was rebellion, distrust, complaining, questioning, and just an overall lack of effort on (seemingly) everybody’s part. What I found out more than anything was that it was hard.
And that’s what brings me to my reflection on those 18 years. I wish that somebody had sat me down when I was just starting out, so full of enthusiasm and fire, and let me know that this is going to be hard. It’s going to take a ton of work, and even when you dig in and do that work, you’re going to have days that seemingly never end. You’re going to have days when you think it’s not possible to do anything right. In fact, you might have nine of those days in a row. Your lessons will fall flat, your interactions with students will fall short, you’re going to get a headache that won’t go away, and you’ll wonder why you chose to enter this profession in the first place.
And then you’re going to go to school the next day and everything will just click.
Your kids (and make no mistake about it, they are your kids) are all over your lesson and they’re demonstrating that they get it. You get a thank you card from a student for helping with a Senior Project. The little ding goes off and there’s a notification that you’ve gotten an email – and find that it’s a kind word of thanks from a parent who appreciates that you’ve pushed her daughter beyond where she ever thought she’d be willing to go. It’s jeans day (c’mon, aren’t things always better on jeans days?) and Chick-Fil-A is delivered to your door for lunch (I’m not kidding about that one, we do this as a fundraiser for our Red Cross Club).
I’d love to tell you that every day is a jeans day and that Chick-Fil-A will be delivered to your door on a daily basis, but we all know that’s not going to be the case. I’d love to tell you that I’ve made meaningful connections with all of my students or all of the members of my Advisory group. I’d love to tell you that I’ve become more of a friend or a father figure to all of my students. I’d love to tell you that I won’t get frustrated when a student isn’t willing to produce at a level that I know is possible – because it’s hard. I’d love to tell you that after 18 years I won’t make any mistakes next year – but we all know that’s not going to happen.
You get the idea…
And I’m just now starting to get the idea because I’m trying to take the same advice that I’ve given to my students in the form of the poster hanging in the front of my room – the one with Art Williams’ words on it. The one that reminds me that nobody said this was going to be easy, but it’s definitely going to be worth it.