The other day, I spoke to a group of (mostly) pre-service teachers about how I have felt empowered in my voice as a teacher. It was an awesome experience and I got so much joy from my time with them!
As part of the Q&A period, I was asked how long it took before I felt truly confident as a teacher. Well, I can't say that I feel confident every day, even now, but after a little thought, I answered, "Six years."
Because in October of my sixth year, I became a mom.
The previous year, my fifth as a teacher, I almost quit. Of course, I’ve always been pretty stubborn, and I was determined not to become a statistic - but it was not easy. My students that year were HARD. It was my fifth group of freshmen, but I swore these were the most immature, out of control students I’d ever met.
I was mad all the time. I remember sitting on the couch at night yelling at a stack of papers that were full of errors, plagiarism, and what I saw as dumb, lazy mistakes. It got so bad that, near the end of the year, as kids get even more rowdy, I actually told a child to get out of my room because I didn’t want to have to look at his face any more.
What kept me there was that a position opened up in my school teaching all Government to seniors. I couldn’t wait to start anew.
While I thought my “escape” from 9th grade would be what saved my career, it turned out to actually be the birth of my daughter.
After she was born, I stopped spending so much time at school and diverted my emotional energy to her, rather than my students. I didn't stop caring about them, not even close. Rather, I stopped getting so angry when they weren't who I wanted them to be. And when I went home each day, I left school at school.
I also learned a few things about kids...
Turns out, kids are still in the process of learning. I saw this first hand with my girl every day.
When she cried, I didn’t get angry, because she was a baby, and that’s what babies do. Instead, I taught her to trust me by coming to her when she needed support.
When she bit or hit, I didn’t get angry, because she was a toddler, and that’s what toddlers do. Instead, I taught her how to name her emotions and cope with her feelings.
When she threw a tantrum because I wouldn’t give her ice cream for breakfast, I didn’t get angry, because she was a child, and that’s what children do. Instead, I taught her about loving and caring for her body and modeled healthy eating choices for her.
I loved her more than I knew was possible, and came to understand that my students were also someone’s whole world - and that they were also still children who were learning how to be grown people. Even my high school kids.
Especially my high school kids.
If I could go back to my first year teacher self, I would be sure to tell her:
Be patient and generous. They may look grown, but they are still children learning how to be people. If they don't know how to do/speak/behave the way you expect, don't get angry. Teach them how. Adjust your expectations.
Kindness, compassion, and empathy will keep you sane and grounded.
And most importantly, even though they are not quite grown, consider them so, and speak to them like you would another adult. It matters.