A veteran teacher asked me, “Are these the students you want to teach after student teaching?” after finishing a day substituting in my classroom of sophomores. I made eye contact from across the room as I pushed in chairs and closed left-open literature text books and answered, “Yes, exactly.” I bent over to pick up a Jolly Rancher wrapper off the floor and as I threw it in the trash, I reflected upon my words.
It’s amazing to me to see the potential and talent in my students, something I hope some of my high school teachers saw in me at one point. I was never an easy student; I see my high school-self in many of my most challenging students. But then I look at my students who have a love of reading and writing and realize I see my teenage-self in them too. I think I took on many teenage personalities back then. I always knew I’d be good, if only I could escape from the town and people who surrounded me. I think that’s why I don’t sweat the small stuff. I know most of the students will be all right. Some won’t quite see the light soon enough, but most will. Most will understand how to play the game of Life by attending college, getting jobs, or enlisting in the military. They’ll make decisions based on who they are, not what society has cookie-cuttered out for them. Whichever path they choose is their own and although I feel the pressure laying on my shoulders to push them to their highest achievement right now in English, I understand fully that some kids won’t acquire the love of reading or writing. That’s okay with me.
Sometimes I argue with myself about the meaning of my lessons and I always come back to making it mean something to each student – most students, anyway. Not every lesson or skill will reach every student; not every wish on a Friday afternoon to “Make good choices” gets into my students’ comprehending heads. But I hope at the end of the day my students know I care and understand more than others. Because I’ve been there. I get it. I care.
So yes, Mister Veteran Teacher, I do want to teach these pubescent, 15-turning-16, free-as-a-licensed-bird teenagers who many flinch at from afar. I understand middle schoolers may be “more excited to learn” or “would appreciate a teacher a bit more openly”, but I like my students who try to give me the cold shoulder, but can’t because I’m easy to talk to and can take a joke. I choose high schoolers because they are merely kids who very rarely see their own potential and talent. A part of the job I get to do is provide opportunities to see that potential. I get to teach them, guide them, and influence them to believe and be confident in themselves. Because even though they are challenging every. single. day., I want to be that consistent, caring, dependable teacher that I still remember from my high school days. I want to make a difference.
And I will.