Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Teacher Story: Part 2

The first school I taught at was in an affluent area.  We had access to a good amount of supplies and technology and resources.  For the most part, parents were supportive.  My students were well cared for, well dressed, and lived in very nice houses.  Of course there were exceptions, but they were certainly that- the exception.  I received tons of Christmas gifts.  I received tons of end of the year gifts.  We went on fantastic trips.  The majority of my kids were fairly motivated.  Parents hired me to do private tutoring when their kids needed extra help.  I thought it was just wonderful there.

Sounds great right?  Well then I must sound crazy in saying that I don't think I'd ever want to go back to a school like this.

Of course I didn't know that yet.  After a couple years, life happened and I ended up moving to a different school.  At the time I had a choice between a high school position and a middle school position.  The middle school position was more in my comfort zone so I went with that.

This school was a much different place.  Kids were coming from a much different background.  They weren't really motivated.  They struggled with a lot of things.  They had many family problems.  There were tons of behavior issues.  My classes were way more diverse.  I had a couple of kids that pretty much spoke no english whatsoever.  For the first couple years there I started to find my stride more as a teacher and became more comfortable.  I still wasn't that great at connecting with the kids though.

After being there for a couple years I got the most challenging group of kids I'd ever had.  They made my life a living hell and made me cry on more than one occasion.  Then they changed my life.  They taught me how to interact with kids.  They taught me what they needed and how to earn their respect.  Some of them taught me that all they needed was for someone to really give them a chance.  They taught me that a good teacher seriously has the power to change a kid's life.  I don't even know how to truly express the weight of that realization.  It took me five years of teaching to really find a good reason for why I am a teacher.

Those kids also made me realize that I wanted to do something different.  A "traditional" school wasn't quite for me.  I wanted to be in a place where I could make even more of a difference.  With even more of those "at risk" kids were.  The idea of high school was appealing to me because I liked the potential to make connections with kids that lasted longer than just a year.  I wanted to be able to check up on them next year and hear that things are going well or be able to help them out if not.  I was getting frustrated with sending my 8th graders off to high school only to hear that they were failing again or that none of their teachers cared like I did (I heard that one numerous times and it killed me).  So while I still do love middle school kids, I just think that high school where I should be right now.

So now I am here.  I teach special needs high school kids at a vocational school and absolutely love it. Nowhere even close to what I had planned.  I don't go on fancy trips or get showered with gifts at Christmas, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Instead they build me ridiculously amazing furniture or stick up for me when they overhear kids saying that I'm mean.  They make me feel very loved.  Instead of fancy trips, we take trips to help hurricane victims or to volunteer at the soup kitchen.  This year a kid called me an angel because I took some time to help him fix up his notebook.  Sometimes I celebrate a D, because at least it's passing.  When I spend my free time helping them out they realize it and I feel like they really appreciate it.  They tell me that they do more for me than anyone else.  My kids might not all be headed for college, but they are skilled enough to be able to build me a house and that is simply amazing.

My kids have talked with me about their lives and some of them have experienced true horrors beyond what I could have even imagined.  Five or ten years ago I would have never been able to handle conversations like that.  I think they really just want someone to listen, and they tell me these things in hopes that I'll understand them a little bit better.  And I do.  I know they don't want pity, but sometimes I come home and cry for them because it is so sad what they have to deal with.  But the fact that they feel comfortable enough to confide in me makes me feel like I'm making a difference somehow.  When they are having a bad day or frustrated with something that happened or angry with another teacher my room is often where they come.

Almost every step that I've taken and move that I've made has been not even close to what I had planned.  And here I am, entirely and completely "out of my comfort zone" and yet completely comfortable.

So in the spirit of the new year, maybe go try something that is terrifying.  You never know...it could be a disaster, or it could be the best thing to ever happen.  It's at least worth a shot.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, it's really inspiring! I've been in the same urban high school for four and a half years now, and back in the beginning I used to crave your first school. Now I can't imagine being anywhere else, for the reasons that you so articulately stated.

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