During my first weeks of teaching last year, I enjoyed my job, but I was stressed and worried. Am I prepared enough? Are my students learning? What can I do better? I wondered if I was cut out for teaching; would I be in that huge percentage that quit in the first five years?
A year later, I ask those same questions. I’m still not sure I’ll be teaching high school forever, but for the first time this week, I realized a wonderful thing: I find great joy in my work.
A few occurrences this week lead me to this conclusion.
Yesterday, I was checking my mail during my conference period when I noticed one of my students sitting in the front office. She was out of dress code and waiting on new clothes. Turns out the back of her dress was entirely lace and her bra showed through (I should have caught this as her first period teacher…oops). Anyway, we spoke for a bit, and she sarcastically told me of a life plan that involved her living with her family her whole life and not working. I said this sounded boring, and that most people typically need to find something that brings them fulfillment and joy – something that makes life worth living. I told her I hoped she’d find that, because I thought she had a lot to offer the world. As I was leaving her, I started thinking about my own journey for joy.
After school, I hosted a Great Gatsby movie night. My students have been begging to watch the movie for weeks, but the new one is over two hours long, and I couldn’t justify giving up almost a whole week of class to do it. Instead, I surveyed my kids for schedules, and I reserved the lecture hall for a few hours after school. I bought the kids pizzas (they chipped in), and one girl brought her mini-movie theater popcorn machine from home, including different flavored salts and red-striped paper popcorn bags. Of my 84 AP students, 54 showed up to watch. At the end, I picked up all of three kernels of popcorn and a forgotten lunchbox off the floor, as they cleaned up after themselves. Many of them thanked me on the way out, or thanked me in class today, for hosting, even though it was next to no work on my part. It was a really fun team-building activity for my classes, to do something special that was just for them. It was also great to have such a good turnout.
This evening a huge college fair was being held at a local expo center, and I had volunteered to work at the Harvard table. We encouraged our students to go, and the fair had this cool system of registering them. Students put in all their information online, and print out a barcode with their name on it. Each college rep just has to scan the barcode to enter the name into their system. It saves students time filling out cards, and there is no personal information floating physically around the building. I had a bunch of students today bring their barcodes to school to show me that they had registered, and they made sure to say hi to me at my table. I know going to a college fair is not a life-changing thing; it was a few hours on a Thursday night, and many came for the free stuff. But a lot of my kids want to go to college – should go to college – but aren’t sure what’s out there. I was thrilled that they were excited to explore. I had a blast talking to prospective students about my college, but even more so, I was so happy to see my students, with whom I work every day, talking to different representatives and exploring options for their futures.
When they came to show me their bags of brochures and tell me what they had learned, I was filled with pride and a sense that what I was doing – trying to teach them things that will help their futures – was incredibly worthwhile, no matter how well I thought I did it on any given day. It also seemed as if my students were proud of me; obviously lots of people wander by the Harvard table, and it felt like they were excited to know me personally, especially when so many other people waited in line to ask questions. Students do not have to like their teachers to learn; however, given my style of teaching, it is crucial that my students buy into my eccentricities in order to best experience my class. This week showed me that I do have that buy-in. I decided again that I really, really like my job.
Of course, today was also a fantastic class. It’s the scene in Act III of The Crucible when John Proctor, the adulterous main character, grabs Abigail Williams (the head honcho of the afflicted girls claiming witchcraft) by the hair and tells the judges in the court that she is a “whore” about eight times. Students were telling the classes who came after them, “You have to read for John Proctor today. Trust me.” I know why they were elated, but it’s so fun seeing students get excited for the next period…especially an English class. That happens so rarely.