Me & My 60 Children

I am 26 years old and this past summer, I made the decision to change careers and hopefully change lives. On August 21st, 2017, I became an important figure to 60 kids by becoming their English teacher. I set out to change lives, and although it seems like I’m on the right path, I’ve come to realize that they’re changing my life more than I’m changing theirs.

The first day of school, I walked into my classroom with copies of my syllabus and an icebreaker activity. Other than that, I was pretty much winging it. I knew that these kids were going to try and size me up, just like I was going to do with them. But before I dive in, I should mention 3 things:

  1. I teach at a Title 1 school where the reputation isn’t necessarily the best.
  2. Prior to my first day in the classroom, I had absolutely no teaching experience other than what I learned online through my Certification Program. Evenso, all of that is just theory.
  3. I have an attitude.

Title 1 or None

When I made the decision to go into teaching, it wasn’t something I’d decided on a whim. I’d spent 4 years toying with the idea of becoming an English teacher but I was never fully committed to the idea of having a group of kids depend on me for a whole school year. Although people sometimes do it, I knew that if I was going to be a teacher, I couldn’t just quit when shit got tough. I had to be ready and willing to give it my all for one whole year. After looking into different certification programs and figuring out costs and the timeframe of it all, I zeroed in on one and fixed my resume to begin the summer-long journey of finding a job.

As I set out to job hunt, I had to figure out what was important to me when choosing which schools to apply for. There were a lot of English positions open in my school district but I knew that I didn’t want to work for the schools in “good neighborhoods” because I knew that meant dealing more with pissed-off parents rather than stubborn students. I’ll gladly take the latter.

Some people advised against it because since it would be my first-year, they thought it might be too much to handle but I knew that the only way I had a chance to truly change lives, was if I worked with kids who needed me. The rich kids with college-educated parents didn’t need me. Either way, they’d be fine because they had access to resources to help them succeed. My future students, not so much. It was at that realization that I decided, Title 1 or none.

Learning More Than Teaching

The decision took more than 4 years but the process of getting certified and hired took less than 4 months. It was a roller-coaster of a summer and without my mom and my boyfriend constantly pushing (nagging) me to finish my training modules, I wouldn’t have finished in time for this school year. So if y’all are reading this, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Like I said, the process was quick and there was so much to learn. I completed 150 hours of training, 32 modules and 30 observation hours but none of that prepared me for the 60 different personalities I’d encounter everyday for the rest of the schoolyear. I knew about literature, grammar and creative writing, pedagogy stuff was fresh on my mind but that paled in comparison to the social-emotional learning that would have to take place each day in my classroom. My students were tough on me because people had always been tough on them or worse, didn’t care. Everyday I am earning their trust and constantly proving to them that words on a page are important but words as a bond are important too.

Being a writer, I’ve learned so much about myself through expressing myself on a page and rereading it over the years so my goal for them was the same. So far, it’s been an eye-opening experience on both ends and everyday, I’m so proud of my students for striving to find their voice in a world that seeks to silence them.

Catching Attitudes & Releasing

They say, “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” and for my dad and I that’s truer than true. If you’re ever wondering what’s going through my dad’s head, you won’t wonder for too long because he’ll say exactly that. No filter. No apologies. I’m the same way. So when 60 students strolled into my life, some of them were shy & sweet but others were more…assertive.

In my first few weeks, I got cussed out, flipped off and eyes rolled at me. I was mad because as a teacher, I can’t catch an attitude with my kids, I had to learn how to surf the waves of their attitudes and the only way I could do that was by understanding myself better. The first time I got cussed out by a kid, I smiled at him and asked, “Are you done throwing your temper tantrum?” He didn’t know what to do because he expected a reaction out of me so he just walked out. When he came back the next day, he didn’t even look at me so once everybody got started on their warm-up, I walked over to his desk and asked him if he was having a better day. When he said yes, I told him, “Well, today is a new day, homie. Everyday you get the chance to start over so I’m glad you’re choosing to start on a good note.” He smiled at me and began writing. Of course, that wasn’t the magic potion that made him change his life because he cussed me out 2 more times over the course of the semester but he helped me understand that when you catch an attitude, you gotta let it go and move forward. Everyday is a new day.

These kids are still trying to figure themselves out. I’m 12 years older and I’m still figuring myself out on a daily basis but the most valuable thing I’ve learned from them is patience. My own attitude can be seen as a curse to those who misunderstand me but a gift in helping me understand my students.

The Little Moments

Sitting here in my living room on a Sunday and grading short stories is a small moment of peace for me. I started off as a stranger to 60 kids but each day, we’re learning from each other and growing. Seeing how much progress they’ve made throughout the semester both academically and personally makes me excited to see where they’ll be come May. I’m full of hope and pride when I see my students achieve greatness in their day-to-day lives. I’m so happy to be a part of it all.