Though the phrase “back-to-school” haunts many people, today it is good.
Because it’s another opportunity to let people know they matter.
I honestly can’t believe I’m starting my seventh year of teaching. I know it’s trite to say it, but it just goes by so fast. Seriously, so fast. Wasn’t I just a first-year teacher and praying I would know what I was doing each day I walked through those classroom doors?
I remember the feeling I used to get when I was younger on the night before the first day of school. There was always excitement and apprehension combined into one. Who would be in my classes? What would my teachers be like? Would I have lunch with people I liked? Would I have enough time after athletics to get ready and make it to class on time? Would I have a lot of homework? Had a lot of the people I knew changed over the summer? Would this be the year I finally got a boyfriend? (Obviously that last question was a “no” every year.)
As a teacher, the questions have changed a bit. What will my new students be like? Will I be able to meet the learning needs of every kid who walks through that door? Will they respect me? Am I actually doing a good job at this teaching thing? Will I remember to take care of all of the tasks I’m supposed to as a faculty member? Will I make a positive influence on these young people who have so many expectations of me? Will they leave my class better people who are ready to impact the world?
When I was a student, I thought teachers had it made. They showed up to work, taught us stuff they had already mastered, gave us a bunch of work to do, slapped a number on it for a grade, then got an entire summer off after the school year ended. Easy breezy.
And then I became a teacher, and I realized how ignorant I had been.
There’s a lot more pressure than I ever imagined there would be in teaching. There are so many people depending on you, and, the strange part is, you want them to depend on you. Because you actually care for those kids. There hasn’t been a single child who has come through that classroom door whom I haven’t wanted to see succeed–even the kid who once told me that I wasn’t God and that he hated me (and also threw in a few cuss words) when I asked him not to work on his history homework during my class. I still really wanted him to do well and realize his potential in life. I hope he eventually did.
I know not every student is going to like me, and that’s fine. But I want them to learn from me–really learn. Some of them will leave my class and never write another news story or edit another feature segment, and those may be things they forget about entirely, but I hope they take genuine life lessons away from here. I hope they know what it means to love and care for people. I hope they know what it means to try hard at something, even if it’s something that challenges them beyond their comfort levels. I hope they know what it means to succeed. I hope they know what it means to fail but try again, anyway. I hope they know what it means to listen to people and respect their opinions. I hope they know what it means to have faith in something they can’t see. I hope they know what it means to dance like no one is watching and not care what anyone else thinks. I hope they know what it means to be themselves, because they are wonderful. I hope they know what it means to laugh without fear of the future. I hope they know what it means to overcome obstacles when the odds are against them. I hope they know what it means to be valued and loved.
And, if nothing else, I hope they know that I care about them more than my words can ever say.
I’m going to stand in front of those kids today and for the rest of the school year, and I’m going to do my best to teach them well. There will be times that I make mistakes, and there will be times that I get frustrated with some of them. But, there will never be a time when I make them feel like they aren’t important or loved.
Though I’m the one with the title of “teacher,” I have done so much learning during these last six years. I’ve certainly learned more patience than I ever could have imagined, but I’ve also learned what it means to care for students as if they were my own kids. Teachers don’t get upset with students who fail because it reflects poorly on their teaching skills–they get upset because they actually care about those kids and want them to do well. If you’ve ever seen the face and the excitement of a student who finally accomplishes something after trying so hard, then you would definitely understand. It’s a sight that puts a permanent smile on your heart. And when a student writes you a note of thanks or lets you know that you in some way helped, it completely erases those moments of stress, fatigue and questions of why you are doing any of this that you sometimes have when your stack of grading starts piling up, and it seems like no one is listening to anything you’re saying during your lessons.
Because this is why you do it: for them.
I’m going to start the new year today and try to memorize the name of every face who walks through the door. It will probably take me a couple of class periods to get them all down, but it will get done. I’m going to have fun with these kids. I’m going to have high expectations for them. I am going to challenge them. I am going to make them meet deadlines and learn practical communication skills. There will be times they are not happy with me. There will be times I am not happy with them. But I hope they leave each day with their hearts full.
Because every single person in this world deserves to know what it means to be cared for and loved.