I’m so happy to have actual students in my classroom again—in a normal schedule. The last two years were so chaotic for my students; I saw far too many of them suffer emotionally from being isolated or feeling closed in or trying to balance work, family obligations, and school as non-adults. This year, the freshmen class and the sophomore class are both really hitting high school for the first time. The juniors and seniors are trying to figure out what they want from their futures while being told what they are supposed to want, while realizing that they may not have all the skills they’ll need for their next steps…
Yes, we have a lot of people in our community who are not vaccinated or who hate masks (just like every other American community). We have parents and students and, occasionally staff, who rail against feeling singled out for not being vaccinated. Some of them struggle to follow the mandates for mask wearing. Frankly, our recent annual celebration didn’t help as it brought thousands of folks who weren’t wearing masks into small spaces—something is going to spread from all that closeness even if it’s just a cold variant.
Everything is part of the current political minefield—what we wear, where we eat, who we acknowledge, health & wellness, the weather…
Yet, I get to come to work every day and talk about history as it relates to stories; I get to talk about philosophy as it relates to stories; I get to discuss all sorts of sources of information, because it relates to critical thinking and communication skills. I get to see them dip their feet into discussions and debates. I get to encourage them to ask the “stupid” questions (the only way to get answers sometimes). I get to be frustrated when they are too loud or excited when they reach interesting conclusions.
For twenty-five years, the reason I kept coming back every fall was my students. In year twenty-six, I’ve already had the “Yeah, I’m a very different teacher now than when I had [blank]. The stories you might’ve heard don’t reflect who I am now.” I’ve also had conversations with students about what their parents or cousins or siblings helped me learn in my never-ending attempts to do a better job. Few thing in my life have given me the joy of watching my students move toward adulthood and embrace the struggle to be their better selves.
I know there are plenty of teachers who want to make sure others know this is just a job. I”m a lifer. It’s my vocation. It’s my honor to help my students improve their skills sets while preparing them for the hundreds of ways life will throw them curveballs. I’m here to prepare them for the whirlwinds that will blow through their lives changing everything—not always due to their own choices or actions. I’m here to help them learn to deal with what happens not what might be.
I’ve had to learn all the lessons I teach.
I also learned very early on that there is more than one way to teach. Just like I don’t want someone judging my methods just because they are different—I can’t judge those who take a different approach to students or to teaching. We all need objective outside assessments (no matter the job). We all need to hope for and to extend grace. Ultimately, we need to be effective while the world and the bar keep changing.
For the students who find this year, welcome. I’m planning on answering questions with more depth than I can in class. I’m planning on digging into topics that fascinate me, frustrate me, and inspire me.
For those who have been waiting and supporting my stilted efforts at thoughtful writing, thank you.