Of all the blog assignments that I've disliked, this one must be at the top of the list. When I was asked a few months ago to describe my experience so far, I all but refused. I said that I could not possibly describe in words, 400 words, an experience that has so fundamentally changed me. Now only a few months later, I get to add 800 words. It's still not enough, but I'll try to give you a glimpse of what these two years have been like.
Two years ago I was a college senior living with my two best friends, Jon and Liz. We were all finished playing college athletics, so our days consisted of hanging out on the deck, going out on the square, making dinner together... doing whatever we wanted, really. I had a job at a local outdoor store and I tutored freshman athletes... I remember thinking, almost exactly two years ago, that I never wanted it to end. I was digging in my heels, soaking up every moment, taking as many pictures as I could. I knew I'd never be able to go back to that place. I also knew I was about to start the toughest two years of my life... at least that's what I'd been told. I really had no idea.
Summer training brought stress, intimidation, failure, second-guessing. I remember going home to Columbus after second session and wondering if I was really cut out for the job. I pushed my return back as far as I could, leaving at 4am the day that I needed to set up my classroom. I stayed until early evening, making my best guess at how a classroom should look. I called upon my own memories as a student. I placed my desk strategically near the door because I'd been told that was a good management technique. I organized the books and disinfected every desk. Twice. I was making stabs in the dark and praying that no one would notice.
That's a feeling that is hard to describe. Everyone has experienced first day on the job jitters, but how about having to mask those jitters in front of a class full kids - kids who can't wait to pinpoint your first weakness? How about first day jitters when you've had only two months of shotgun training? First day jitters compounded by an evaluation during first period. An unannounced, unexpected observation to add to the butterflies, the second guessing, and the palpable "Who is this new lady?" mentality. I tried to throw my shoulders back, shatter the tension. I'm not sure that happened until second semester. Every day I dragged myself to school. I chugged coffee and tried to hide my exhaustion and frustration. I begged myself to be positive. I remember sitting at my desk during homeroom and giving myself little pep talks. Every. day.
It got easier second semester, but even that was short-lived. I seemed to have figured out my own teacher persona, management style, philosophy. Not completely, of course. But I had made ground. The kids behaved better and my lessons became at least a little bit less forced. I even enjoyed my job on a lot of days. Any teacher knows though, that the end of the year comes with quite a bit of student apathy. So that brief stretch of victory was quickly dampened by some of the same frustrations I experienced at the beginning of the year. With snow days and early dismissals caused by tornadoes, we were in school through the first week of June, making for the longest school year I've had to date. July never looked so good.
Over the summer I got to see my favorite band, Dispatch, at the amazing Red Rocks amphitheater in Denver, I went to India for two weeks, and I got to spend some much needed time with my family. I got back to Mississippi motivated, confident, refreshed, and missing my kids. I was ready.
This year has been easier on several levels. Management is no longer a daily battle. I have an amazing group of kids this year. As a second year teacher in a high turnover school, I actually have a leadership role. I've been given more responsibility: technology coordinator, yearbook advisor, track coach, basketball coach... it's a lot. But I'm certainly not bored. I still dread waking up in the morning, but luckily this year I know that a kid will make me laugh by 8 am. And this year I let myself laugh. I think it has made me more approachable, and while Teacher Corps may frown upon my newly-found, relaxed demeanor, I'm confident that it's been a huge contributor to my improved management.
I can't say that I'm digging my heels in, begging time to slow down like I was two years ago. I'm ready to move on. I've spent six years down here - a good chunk of my twenty three-year life. I feel like I've given Teacher Corps the best of myself, and maybe too much of myself to be honest. But that's ok. I guess I wouldn't have it any other way. I've heard Teacher Corps graduates say this before, and now I believe them: I can do anything. Anyone who makes it through these two years knows how to handle stress, failure, rejection, exhaustion... manic highs and depressed lows... and that can be all in one day. This program, this job, has prepared me for anything. No matter what I do next, there's no way it will be this hard. There's no way I'm not prepared.
I've learned so much about myself. I've learned that compassion outweighs frustration - every time. I've learned that sometimes kids are wiser than they get credit for, sometimes adults are more naive, and I've learned that making a kid laugh does a world of good for both of us. I've come to see that education's problems are too complex to be solved by a teacher, a program, or sweeping state mandates. The issues with failing schools are often rooted in the communities that serve them. So instead of throwing up my hands and deciding that the problems are too big for me, I should take comfort in the fact that I am on the front lines - building relationships, trying to change perceptions, and hopefully teaching a little English. I should take comfort in that. I should and I will. I am a teacher. But I need a break... so I won't be a teacher next year. Perhaps the following.