I guess I was born to teach. It wasn’t exactly something that I chose to do with my life. It was just embedded in my DNA. Both of my parents are teachers. And from what I’m told, I just have that teaching “spark.” It was a no-brainer for me to major in some form of education in college, and elementary education is what I eventually chose to do.
You go through your college courses asking yourself, “Do teachers really do this much planning for every lesson?” (No. At least I don’t.) and “I can’t wait to have my own classroom with cute bulletin boards and displays and the cutest reading corner!” (I have those things, but they are not “cute.” It’s the end of the year, people.) Most of what I saw in my college preparation for this field was just that–preparation. And I could have taken another 5 years of education classes and gotten my doctorate or something crazy like that, and never have been prepared for what was about to come this year.
Let me preface this by saying this is NOT my first year teaching. I did teach a full year last year, in 7th grade math, and now I teach 3rd grade – all subjects. But let me tell you, it was like last year didn’t even happen when I set foot into my classroom this year.
I’m going to spare you some of the details of the roughness that was and still is this year. But what you need to know is I work on the west side of Chicago. These rough days took me to the point where I would be on my break, crying, asking myself and God if I could really do this, if I really wanted to put myself through this. Then I would dry it up, because it was time for math. Rough days to the point where I was on the other end of a one sided phone conversation being cussed up one side and down the other. Rough days to the point where I came home, hair in disarray, dirt and Expo marker covering my hands, and collapsed on the couch.
I don’t say these things to make you feel sorry for me. If I told you what really happened, you might think I’m making it up. But what I’m here to tell you is why I still go back, why I haven’t broken, why I haven’t and won’t quit.
I sent out my resume to probably 50 different schools and met with principals all last summer. Only one principal gave me an interview. Only one principal saw me a second time. Only one job was offered. So I took it. Being a believer and praying for the way to be made known to myself, that was it. I was called to teach, and here the opportunity presented itself.
Reason #1 – I was called to be put in front of these children. These specific children that I have.
In September I got my roster with my student data. From what I was told, I was going to have some rough kids in my class, some challenges. The data showed me that the majority of my students couldn’t read, and at least a third were repeating the grade. My kids could barely add or subtract, let alone be prepared for multiplication.
Reason #2 – These kids can’t go through life without knowing how to add, subtract or read. That was an injustice in and of itself.
The first day of school came. They started right in. My students had a lot of anger in them. A lot of disrespect for authority was present. They had a lot of frustration and had no idea why or what to do with it. Confidence was lacking. They didn’t seem to understand any expectations (the nice word for ‘rules’) that I had set for the classroom.
Reason #3 – My kids needed security and consistency in their lives.
Security and consistency came with time. About Week 10 (around 50 days of school), I finally felt them break. It was palpable. They finally realized I wasn’t leaving, my standards weren’t changing, and they were going to act civilized in the classroom whether they liked it or not. It is only by the Lord’s strength and grace that I made it that far, and we weren’t even half way yet. But as time went on they started to blossom, and we all learned one way or another to multiply and to at least begin to read. They felt confident and successful for the first time it seemed.
Reason #4 – They needed someone to champion them, someone to make them feel like their success truly mattered.
At this point, almost 180 days have come and gone. As I’m writing this, I only have about 8 more days, about 60 more hours, to stand in front of my students before they leave me for the summer. And as excited as I am to have summer and to spend time with family and friends, a part of me is sad. They drive me bonkers and push my buttons every day. Their behaviors that I saw at the beginning of the year are coming back out because days of uncertainty are coming. But I will miss them. Through all the bad days, through all the tears, there were those moments–fleeting moments–when they got it. They understood what I was trying to do, what we as a classroom were trying to do. And that–that is why I go back.
Every teaching job, whether public, private, home school or other, presents its own unique challenges. My hope is only to encourage all teachers–and anybody working any job, really–that we all need good motivations to keep going. I have no doubt any teacher knows this, but we all need to be reminded of it once in a while.