Over the past few days I’ve been back at school for in-service, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a fresh crop of bright-eyed angels just waiting to call me magnificently crude phrases and blame me for their ever-downward-spiraling GPA.
Okay, that’s a little cynical. Those kids are definitely the exception rather than the rule, and I do love my little weirdos. It’s just that, all week, we’ve been shown countless videos and articles that are written/produced/*heavily edited* by people who, sometimes, have never even been a teacher. “Well, in theory…” Yeah, we all know how well that works for real life. The reality is it’s hard to integrate technology when half of the computers are broken. It’s impossible to have 30-minute conferences with each student in a roomful of 33 kids in a 90-minute span. And those beautiful groups with kids sharing and smiling and learning neglect to mention the kids who struggle with confidence – who can’t bring their eyes to meet those of their peers. The cameras avoid the child with his head down on the desk, blatantly telling you that he’d rather be in summer school anyway because at least his friends are there. Just like the kids’ selfies (taken while you’re writing on the board…or just while you’re directly in front of them), these ideal classrooms are filtered, glossed over to look shiny and smooth. It is a frustrating part of the job, this outsider idealism of a perfect classroom, and it simply isn’t real.
Here’s what is real: colleagues who joke and say the same comments about these superficial settings to which we’re exposed. We blow off steam by role-playing those obnoxious students, ones who ask ridiculous questions and ones who simply do nothing at all. The indifference can be comical to emulate for a moment, but what’s real is the love that these other human beings have for all their students – even the disrespectful, cheating, apathetic ones. Especially those. The videos we watch should be of other teachers dealing with these real life scenarios.
Here’s what I never learned in my education courses: I never saw videos of teachers holding their ground against a student’s – or worse, a parent’s – abrasive, abusive comments. I never saw a principal quietly pull out a box off tissues when a teacher broke down in tears from pressure. I never knew the indescribably immense necessity of supportive coworkers. I have learned an infinite amount more about how to effectively interact with students from watching the brilliant people I work with than I learned from thousands of textbook pages.
A group who can empathize with you when you find out a student attempted suicide and wrote about it in her last essay; a group who will work together to cover your classes when you have an emergency and are out of sick days; a group who reminds you that neither you nor your students’ worth are measured by test scores – those kids smiled, connected, and had a place to feel safe, and that is worth everything. I would not have survived these last three years without the constant hands on my shoulders and gentle prompts to go home after long days, to take a breath, to remember that I’m doing just fine.
Here’s what else is real: the kids.
There are some kids who are assholes. There are no other words for it. Some will grow out of that, some will not. Some have more reasons for that kind of behavior than others. But most.
Most students will grow to love you, and that, too, is worth everything.
You will leave many lessons unfinished, units will spill over their allotted time, and you won’t cover every single standard. Events will pop up that cut into class time, subs will lose class sets of quizzes, and your room will very rarely look like one of those theoretical videos. But you won’t remember that (or at least you shouldn’t dwell). The kids definitely won’t. They will forget most of the grammar lessons, they will forget who killed Mercutio (if they ever even knew in the first place), and they probably will not become award-winning authors. But many will come back to you when they get their driver’s license, honking at you excitedly from a car that might be newer than your own.
Years will go by and some of those little boys will come back six feet tall, stooping down to hug you and apologize for being so annoying when they were freshmen. Because they were SO annoying. Most will be overly dramatic, but, if you take the time, they’ll remember you making them feel like they matter. Most will recognize how hard you’re trying, even when no one reacts in class. Most stand up for you against problem students, telling them that you you don’t deserve to be spoken to that way. Sometimes they’ll call those other students out, saying [inappropriate] things that you only wish you could say to those kids. Most of them won’t give 100% every day, but sometimes they humor you. Classes develop inside jokes and you watch friendships blossom. If you work at it, most will feel welcome and comfortable talking about things they wouldn’t otherwise. You will laugh every single day, and most kids will smile alongside you.
These are the lessons we sometimes forget when preparing for the new semester, but they are the things that bring us back year after year. These are the things that are real.