These days, there are swag days, days when I could not care any less about the shenanigans students pull. Days when their eye rolls, sass, and whining, their muttered comments, and their eagle-eye ability to notice all my mistakes don’t mean a damned thing, days when their attempts to ruffle my feathers merely make me chuckle. Days of swag when I’m able to trust that what I do in the classroom is important and effective, that what I do makes a difference, that what they think of or say about my teaching means little to me as long as they’re learning. Days when I march through my door with a stack of goals and notes and lessons and activities and a go-get-’em, yes-we-can swagger, and I don’t listen to the wailing and the whining. Days when I am not thrown off by apathy or anger or angst. Days when I don’t for one second take it personally when they roll their eyes as if I can’t see them. Days when I laugh when they say, “This is so boring!” and simply retort, “Sucks, bruh!”
And these days, there are other days (read: today). Sheepish days. Uncertain days. Murky and muddled days. Walking-through-mud days. Falling-on-my-face days. Anxious, timid, tumultuous, affected days where it takes every ounce of my mental energy to dispel the fears that I am not enough. That they roll their eyes because they don’t trust my expertise. That they scoff and whine because they don’t respect me. That they misbehave because they hate me. That they think I’m a joke, that my class is a joke, that I make no sense, that they don’t get who I am or what I’m about. That they see right through me and somehow have decided I nor my class are not worth their time or effort. Days when their jokes about my “boring class” cut me to the quick, and it takes all that’s left within me to dam up the emotional waters. I’m trying, I want to say. I’m doing my damndest to teach you, to help you, to engage and enthrall and educate you. Please just meet me half way. But I can’t beg. I won’t.
I am a perfectionist. I am sensitive. I am intuitive. Standing in front of a room of 30 kids can feel like drowning in swirling sea full of creatures and shadows that careen to and fro, demanding I take notice of them, appreciate them, see them, acknowledge them, understand them. I can’t help but try to process and make sense of them–the emotions, the attitudes, the affects, the scoffs, the eye rolls, the placid and tired expressions. Where are these kids? How are they? Am I doing something to make this worse for them? What can I do to make it better? Where am I in all of this?
You can safely guess that I have more other days than swag days. I have more days consumed with being “the best teacher they’ve ever had” than I care to admit (because it makes me seem selfish, self-centered, and proud). And today I am painfully aware of all the things I’m not doing as well as I would like to be, all the things that have fallen off the wagon along the way–the students that I am not reaching, the students that are not understanding, the accommodations I’m not implementing, the emails I’m not sending, the grading I’m not doing… the list goes on. I am painfully aware of the handful of kids in 8th period who don’t listen to a word I say. I am trying not to be hurt by the mutters of, “This is bullshit,” when I hand out information about their final. I am trying not to take it personally when a student rolls in late for the tenth time in a row and just scoffs when I ask him to sit down without disrupting the other students. I am trying not to interpret every little thing I see and hear as a sign that I’m doing something wrong to allow these things to happen.
Sometimes kids are just kids. Sometimes kids being kids is not my fault.
So I gently whisper to myself between sips of red wine and nibbles of dark chocolate (what am I, a perfume commercial?): It’s year one. The first year I’ve had a classroom full of 25-30 different minds and backgrounds and emotions and fears and joys and scholastic experiences.
The first year I’ve been responsible for their learning, their reading, their writing, their growth.
The first year that I–and I alone–have had to worry about the kid who was sick all last week getting caught up while also teaching the kids who have been here so they’re not bored while also handing back work while also getting ready for the fire drill while also redirecting 5 students’ behaviors while also answering a question while also trying to stay on topic while also trying to be personable and calm and composed and poised and funny and accessible and dependable and clear and accurate and eloquent while also trying to remember what my lesson entails while also trying to not be affected by the emotions and the tensions and the stresses and the expressions in the room that might very well have nothing to do with me or might have everything to do with me while also pushing aside my own thoughts and emotions while also paying attention to what I’m saying and doing.
The first year that all their successes and all their failures might be thrown right back in my face–for better or for worse.
The first year that every work day is personal as much as it is professional.
But. It’s also the first year that is hard in the only way that year one of teaching can be hard, and exciting in the only way year one can be exciting. It’s the first year that I get up every morning and follow the breadcrumbs of my calling and purpose to Room 215. The first year that I’ve felt my depression and anxiety as I always do but haven’t been crushed by it. The first year I’ve not had to call in sick because of depression or a panic attack. The first year I’ve received a paycheck that left me with enough extra to put some into savings.
The first year someone’s left a note on my desk that says, “Mrs. F. is my favorite teacher.”
The first year I’ve decorated my own classroom for the holidays.
The first year I’ve been able to say, “I’m a high school English teacher.”
And while I am not the best teacher they’ve ever had, nor am I as good as I want to be, nor am I the best I can be (yet), I must look back and realize that this time last year, this was just a pipe dream. This was a distant finish line at the end of a very long race.
And here I am now. Sitting at my desk in my own classroom surrounded by Christmas lights and a white board with a daily agenda and a stack of grading in front of me and a student who apparently snuck out of his 5th period class to “go to the restroom” but actually just wanted to come say hi to me. (Don’t worry–I very promptly sent him back to class.)
Here I am, (somewhat) in charge of my own classroom, and the place hasn’t burned down yet.
Progress is progress, right? If ever so (seemingly) slow.