Almost everything I know, I learned in a classroom – My Own
It was 16 years ago that I first stepped foot in that classroom. It was the result of an impulsive decision. I wanted to change the world, make it better. On a whim, I applied for teaching credentials from the state then faxed my resume to three schools. Two weeks later, I was sitting with a thousand other people in a hotel conference space for New Teacher Orientation. A week after that, I was setting up my classroom, studying textbooks, writing lesson plans, designing a curriculum.
It was all a whirlwind of activity. Every year is. And a classroom is a home away from home.
Teaching changes how one views the world. Our very perception of time is altered; it’s faster, determined by the school calendar: quarters and semesters, progress reports, standardized tests. A teacher’s year isn’t twelve months long, it’s nine.
There is always a clear beginning and a definitive end. At the end of each year — even a really bad year — there is always a sense of hope, joy, nostalgia. After all, each school year always ends in graduation, a commencement, a celebration of what was and of the possibilities that lie ahead.
Always, I felt ready to do it all again: to teach literature and writing, yes, but also to push students to think critically, to look closer, to push them to achieve more than they thought they could, to dream and, more importantly, to believe in their ability to achieve those dreams – and then to dream bigger.
Over the years, I’ve watched these kids grow up and thrive academically, personally, professionally. I’ve cheered them on as they achieve greater milestones. I’ve attended college graduations and weddings, proofread graduate school applications and resumes. We’ve built a team, an extended family.
They have inspired me.
That is, of course, the great irony. I wanted to change the world. I never anticipated how much my students would change me. (Related: What have I learned this year? Teaching is Hard)
I learned about perseverance and tenacity, about team-building, about the impact of socio-economic disparities. I learned, and continue to learn, about pop culture and evolving language (slang and colloquialism are – after all – the evolution of our language).
I’ve learned that we often underestimate young people, that we don’t spend enough time listening to them or acknowledging their viewpoints, but we do spend a lot of time projecting our own apprehensions and expectations on them. I’ve learned just how meaningful and impacting it can be to have someone in your corner, someone that believes in you. I’ve learned just how few kids have that.
In short, I have learned every day.
Their energy is electrifying, even the cynicism that Gen Zers are so known for is not totally devoid of hope. On the contrary, they possess an astounding amount of optimism, a sincere belief that they can be agents of change, that we have the ability to fix our problems, that even in the absurdity of the present moment, there is joy.
Another version of this essay was published on the PBS NewsHour Extra, Educator’s Voice. Read it here: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/2021/09/educator-voice-almost-everything-i-know-i-learned-in-a-classroom-my-own/