On My First Year Teaching
I walked into the classroom for the first time as an educator and my initial thought was, “Damn, I am hungry,” quickly followed by, “Holy crap, I have to teach these kids Old English. The heck I know about Old English?” The answer is not a lot, and I was probably craving a Taco Bell Breakfast Crunchwrap with steak. Go try it. It’s amazing.
Timidly, I introduced myself. I was subbing seniors, and it felt weird having these young men and women refer to me as Miss Kudaimi, something that made me seem so old and distant from my own generation. I was cool, hip, and pop cultured. And weren’t we all millennials? I settled on Miss Kay and skipped over the history of English spiel, opting to discuss college and the impending doom of applications. “Get them done early,” I said in my sternest, most serious voice, followed by my sweetest, most kind smile. I assured them I was available for any of their questions and needs, that I was an editing connoisseur and a pretty good writer, and then just like that, the bell rang and they moved onto their next class.
I only had that particular bunch for about a month, as the maternity leave I was covering for ended and I too had to move on to my next class.
Luckily, I was just down the hallway in a classroom I could actually call my own (the Harry Potter themed walls can attest to this).
Being a teacher is hard and you don’t get enough credit for it, but I think everyone knows this to a certain degree. Whether or not people vocalize the fact is another thing in and of itself, especially when they express all the harmful stuff and forget about what’s helpful. Basically, the best way to think of this is that everyone secretly appreciates a good teacher: administrators, parents, students, board members, politicians, etc. How we define what a good teacher is may differ from one person to another, and that’s okay. What’s important is you let us do our jobs and learn from our mistakes before categorizing us as good or bad. And that you are generous with your chances. We probably need a bigger learning curve than most of our students.
On my end, I can confidently say my first year was a disaster. But I can also confidently say that my students liked me (minus a handful who made it known that they didn’t, a small percentage in the scheme of 168 students). And for me, that was more than enough to keep me content in the work I was doing. Even on the days that I cried in front of a bunch of thirteen year old boys (they wouldn’t pay attention) and the day I fainted with nobody noticing (thanks kids, I could have died), I came home genuinely happy, energized, fulfilled and all that other cheesy stuff you’re supposed to get out of a career [not a job].
And you know you must have done something right when your classroom is constantly brimming full with students who just wanted to hang; somehow mine unintentionally became that safe space we all strive to find. Students popped in to catch up on homework, ask for life advice, use their cell phones, hide from the dean (sorry, boss). Even those seniors showed up to get their personal statements proofread (only a day before the deadline and likely because I was their final option, but they did make it). Mostly, I let them be themselves and liked them for that (occasionally, I had to feign an interest – like when a student was upset his A+ went from a 114% to a 108%). It wasn’t anything special from my end, it was just that illusion of escape from rules and protocol and responsibilities that unfortunately come with the territory of schooling.
What I found to be most true in those moments where I was just Miss Kay and not Teacher Miss Kudaimi was that these kids motivated me and gave me ambitions. My pack of teenagers were inspiring, pushed me to push myself so that I could excel not just in my teaching, but also in my learning. They mentored me more than I could ever mentor them. And for someone who has felt lost in her professional life for almost an entire decade, to finally have direction, meant all the world to me and more. Multiplied by 168.
I only hope that eventually I will return the favor.
All the best of luck and success to my special seniors, whose visits to check in on me were usually the brightest part of my day.