To be happy, one must first be grateful. I’m starting to learn that gratitude, in some ways, can be more powerful than words, and words have shaped my life since I was a little girl. In fact as a seventh-grade English teacher and part-time college adjunct, words are my life.
Honestly, I want to be grateful I’m a teacher, but there are days – sometimes weeks – that the red tape, the breakdown of stable family units, and a classroom cancer called “apathy” almost get the better of me. Battling those three monsters is like standing in quicksand: sometimes the more you fight, the more you sink. But I’m Irish and German and Italian and so giving up the fight is just not in me. Instead, I refocus and pull myself out by grabbing my metaphorical rope ten times.
Ten moments that make teaching worth it:
- The moment when one of my students tells me, “Ms. J, I asked for and got The Count of Monte Cristo (movie) for Christmas and watched it with my parents. Man, I had to explain everything to them, including why Edmond keeps changing his name.” (A student can only teach someone else if they have first learned the material.)
- The moment a student shares a profound insight or interpretation about our story with the class, and then another student carries on the thought to yet another profound insight without even looking at me once. (One goal of an effective teacher is to create meaningful dialogue among students rather than between students and the teacher.)
- The moment a student defines a current vocabulary word with an old vocabulary word. (That can only mean connection and retention – two favorite words for us.)
- The moment when I cry because I’ve paired two students together, hoping one would help the other one who is struggling, and the struggling student makes a 100 on the test, high-fiving his new buddy. (Sometimes, students can teach each other better than the teacher.)
- The moment when a former student (four years out of my class) returns and hugs me like you’d hug your mom. (A smart teacher knows that the bond you form with your students impacts national achievement test scores just as much – if not more – than anything else we do during class. No bond: minimal learning.)
- The moment when a college freshman, taking a remediation Composition class because his scores were too low to qualify for the regular English class, says, “I thought I was just dumb. In high school they told me I had a learning disability, but I see now that I just needed someone to explain it in a different way.” (Where to start? Disability or not – students reach for the expectation a teacher sets. By the way, he passed with the highest A in my class, went on to graduate, and is currently a policeman protecting others. Disabled my ass.)
- The moment a mom comes to me after her daughter’s had an emotionally draining year and takes my hands – looking me straight in the eyes – and says, “I don’t know how to thank you for being there for her. Just…thank you.” (Only half a teacher’s job is about imparting knowledge to their students. The other half is just being what they need to make it to the next step.)
- The moment when a visitor enters the classroom, sits down, and can’t help him or herself and joins the conversation. (Great teaching sucks you in – just like that darn quicksand. It’s magic.)
- The moment when the class is struggling and silent and we all are exhausted with the effort to grasp a crucial concept and…one of my seventh graders farts. (The classroom is not a simulation of real life, people. It is real life. Sometimes, a good hardy laugh is called for.)
- The moment a new class enters, seats are assigned, the students stare at you, and you realize that there is one empty seat left – echoing that one student you lost years ago when she went home and shot herself – and you take a deep breath as the importance of the job is laid before you, stark and grim, but worth Every. Single. Pain.