Nikki H. Rose conveys the value in connecting with her students and the reward of helping them comprehend tough concepts.
Ah-ha! She got it. The grin spread across her face while her eyes searched mine to make sure she wasn’t wrong. I grinned back.
I got through to her. I managed to crack the invisible glass that had separated us this entire time — the invisible pane that had her looking out the window at the greenery instead of at me, at the board, or at her work.
I was new at this. I was standing in the middle of a rundown classroom during graduate school attempting to determine if this field — a field I had worked toward my entire life — was actually the right one for me. Being thrown into a classroom of students with no experience and minimal preparation was terrifying. This wasn’t because I worried about falling on my face (although that fear did run rampant in my mind), but because I was constantly consumed with the fear of failing these kids whom I hadn’t even known three weeks ago. Their futures partially depended on doing well in this class. But how was I supposed to know if I were teaching them anything? What if I were just doing them a disservice by standing in front of them every day?
Eventually, it got easier, but the fear still existed. Before I opened my mouth each morning, the butterflies exploded in my stomach, causing me to lose my composure. There was no butterfly net large enough to catch them. There didn’t seem to be anything that could be done to change this from occurring each and every day. I continued to question if I should be there, if I should be in front of these students, if I were the right person to try to educate others when I was still learning fundamental concepts myself. Comments from other people made me question my position. And my brain forced me to speculate that all of my hard work may have been for nothing. But I was wrong. And I’m so thankful that I was wrong.
The first time a student has an Ah-ha! moment in your classroom is one that you should remember forever. For students, Ah-ha! moments are often one of many. But you have to look for them. You have to look past the grueling questions scavenging your mind about your capability and look at the students. You have to study their faces. You have to recognize when they’re lying about understanding something because they don’t want you to single them out by explaining it. But you also have to realize when they do get it. And they get it because of you — because you didn’t give up on them or believe them when they said they’d never get it.
The moment it all clicks is when they fall in love with learning again. It may not be permanent. Maybe they don’t even realize it. But you have them at least temporarily engaged in what you do and say. And this can be every student at different points. And sometimes you won’t trigger the Ah-ha! for each student, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible. That just means you have to keep trying.
When I started teaching, it was partially because I love to learn. I was the dork in school who loved being in class. I’d complain about assignments, but I loved the ideas I came up with while doing them — ultimately making me appreciate the assignments, too. But it was more than just the books. It was more than just reading and analyzing everything that an author does. It was about giving students an outlet to express themselves. It was about showing them that they could appreciate the world through different lenses — and even see themselves in it, too.
But when students get caught up in what they cannot do, are unable to do, don’t want to do, or will never have to do, the spark dissipates from them. The excitement is not there, and it is not easy to get it back. For many teachers, it’s the moment they want to give up because the student has given up, and so many professionals argue that teachers should not care more than the students do. But this isn’t how it works. This isn’t how the profession works — or even how the love of learning works.
I became a teacher because I was exhilarated by the prospect of something different every day. I wouldn’t get bored — I couldn’t get bored — because there are no two days that are identical. Each class is made up of different people, and each person learns in a slightly different way. I’m constantly learning how to reach my students, support them in their own thinking processes, and show them that they are capable of everything and anything set before them.
The Ah-ha! moment saved me in graduate school. It showed me the real reason I wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t about the books, the writing, or even the differences of every day. It was about the impact. It was about being there for students and showing them that they could get it. The lightbulbs could go off in their heads just like they did in the heads of their peers. They don’t have to sit idly by, wishing they could be anywhere else, hiding the tears because they can’t grasp an idea or a concept that everyone else seems to understand. When they finally get the chance to have their Ah-ha! moments, they realize they can understand. They can succeed. They realize they are not alone.
And their Ah-ha! moments have been my Ah-ha! moments, too.