It’s hard to believe that I’m already approaching my fifth year of teaching! This past year was a roller coaster in several ways. Last July I herniated the L4-L5 disc in my back, and that injury set me into a spiral of physical agony for the next three months until I finally gave in and saw my doctor. One back surgery and 6-week recovery later (I know, I’m only 26!), I’ve made a pretty remarkable recovery. I haven’t felt this well in such a long time!
Even though there were some bumps along the way, I can’t explain how grateful I was to have such good support from my fellow teachers as well as some pretty great students who put up with a lot while I was gone. There’s always going to be challenging years, but there’s five things I’ve learned this time around that remind me why I love my job:
- Fourteen-year-old students have fantastic vocabularies. No, I don’t mean that they can rattle off the definition of “lugubrious” on command, but I’ve had the pleasure of adding to my own vocab this year with phrases like “on fleek” and its opposite, “on butt.” This probably sounds hilarious (or cringe-worthy) to non-teachers (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a little trip to Urban Dictionary and educate yourselves), but I’ve just come to accept that every generation has its own made-up words, and these are theirs. And they are funny.
- Sometimes the kids who seem the most difficult are the ones who need love the most. When you really listen instead of just dismissing behavior as being immature, you realize that a lot of students come from backgrounds that are just truly challenging and heartbreaking. But what makes me love my job most is seeing those kids excel at school, in sports, or whatever their niche is. Sometimes the attention-seeking behavior really is just their cry for someone to listen to them.
- Music: There is hope for the future. Every August (or, now, July… yuck!) I start the year by sharing things about myself—favorite movies, music, etc. And every year I share with them my undying love of hip-hop. They all laugh because, well, I don’t necessarily “look” the part to them (1. I’m “old,” 2. I’m a girl, 3. I’m a teacher, and so on). At some point shortly after Christmas break, a couple of students discovered my affinity for Tupac, and it’s been a wild ride of sharing favorite songs and artists with one another ever since. I introduced them to some of my favorite old-school hip-hop artists, and they opened my eyes to some newer artists that I hadn’t given a fair shake—namely, Kendrick Lamar. Since then, we’ve had so many amazing conversations about how Kendrick’s songs address topics in the novels and plays we’ve read in class, like A Raisin in the Sun. It is so refreshing to see the kids actually get into the texts we read because they see how it relates to things they’re interested in, and, more importantly, they go home and (on their own time) make connections to excitedly come share in class the next day. As a matter of fact, here’s a video I saw just recently of another high school teacher doing the same thing with his students.
- If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? Aside from bringing a little musical flavor into my classroom, another thing I’ve learned this year is that you get a lot more “buy in” from kids (and other teachers) when there’s FUN on the horizon. My teacher BFF, Ms. Hamlin, and I decided to bring back Student Council this year because it’s been MIA from Scribner for the last several years. We had a rough start to the year since I abruptly left while recovering from my surgery, but we were able to do a number of fun events this year including a talent show, semi-formal dance (which was AWESOME), and our first pep rally since 2012. Seeing the students excited about things instead of constantly being bombarded with test-talk was a really refreshing change this year.
- Even though I teach 8th graders, I’m still a reading teacher. This one was the biggest challenge this year. I chose to teach secondary because I wanted to avoid teaching reading, but surprise! There are an alarming number of kids who reach 8th grade who still read well below their grade level. This year, our district implemented an intervention program where we have “bubble” kids (who barely passed/failed ISTEP) two periods in a row for a total of 100 minutes a day…every day.. I thought I was going to hate it. I thought it’d be torture. I thought it’d be a nightmare to plan for. But you know what? I LOVE IT! I’ll admit that I still don’t really feel 100% confident in my ability to “teach reading.” But what I do know is that sometimes all kids need is more one-on-one attention and for you to be real with them. We established the first week of school that those kids were in that class because they all need help. No one was better or worse than anyone else, and, in all honesty, I didn’t get any push-back from them all year. If they know what they need and aren’t embarrassed to acknowledge it, then they’ll hopefully be more comfortable asking for help when they need it.
There’s obviously more than just five things that I learned this year, but these seem to be the ones I keep coming back to. I can’t help but feel that when you can make school relate to their lives—make it fun—that you’ll get better results all around.