Skip to main content

What ALL My Students Have Taught Me

I quit my first teaching job after three months to begin working where I currently work. Let me dispel initial reactions: It wasn’t the kids. It wasn’t my colleagues. It wasn’t because I was completely unhappy. It wasn’t a horror story about a dysfunctional school district that was hemorrhaging staff left and right.  I was fresh out of college and saddled with more student loan debt than my part-time salary, and I wanted needed a full-time teaching position. Regardless of the amount of time I spent there, those students taught me some invaluable lessons that have shaped my teaching life since then.

My first position was at a nearby international baccalaureate school where nearly half of my students were Muslim. At a time when too many conversations are dominated by declarations about what Muslims are and are not and the same conversations allow little room for inquiry in order to develop an understanding, I emailed Cindy about writing about this topic in order to share what these students, many of whom happened to be Muslim, taught me about teaching and about life. This is what I learned:

My students were passionate about all aspects of life: their friends, their families, their religions, their hobbies, their school.

My students challenged me to provide real, authentic contexts for reading and writing.

My students sought feedback on their assignments that would help them improve.

My students had individual stories, which I would grow to learn more about over time and made me appreciate them even more for the unique individuals they are.

My students believed in mutual respect and, once earned, would do anything I asked of them.

My students pushed my boundaries and buttons in order to see me react.

My students looked at me as a mentor, as someone who they could look up to and ask questions both about content and about life. (To this day, students ask if I went to any "clubs" in college. I always tell them about the "book club.")

My students were conditioned to being told what to write, and I had to work extra hard to encourage them to write something meaningful rather than forced. 

My students had parents and other adults in their lives who cared about their academic, social, and personal development, even if I always didn't think they did.

My students were concerned about their futures. Some knew they would end up in college, and others were uncertain.

My students had disagreements with other teenagers that resulted in anger, frustration, and friendship.

My students worried about homework, their grades, and being good enough. They worried about demands they placed on themselves, the school placed on them, and those placed by others.

My students would take a project and “run with it” if I gave them the freedom, support, and encouragement to make something meaningful.

My students evoked my emotions through a good piece of writing or a moment of keen thinking in class. There were so many times when they gave me goosebumps or brought tears to my eyes. 

Looking back over what I’ve listed above, it’s not different in any way than my students right now. They’re teenagers. That’s it. And they managed to help me understand that during a time when so many express their ignorance about other cultures and religions through messages of hate. 

I can only imagine what many of my former students have to endure on a daily basis right now. I can only vow to use that experience in my current position and share that experience with students I currently teach.

When writing this post, I stumbled upon an email from March 2013, an email received months after I had left this position. The student emailed me covertly, pretending to be a current student that was asking about grammar help. When I figured him out, he responded:



Believe me kid, not a day goes by that your teachers don’t worry or think about you too.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Finding Words

I get to school early and my students know that. This morning, a student that I’m not even particularly close with arrived at 6:00 AM in tears. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what to say to students and colleagues about the presidential election.
This student and I talked about fear. We talked about her history. We talked about how she encouraged her mother to vote for the first time—ever. We talked about how she can’t understand why people would vote for a fear-mongering, hate-talking candidate like Donald Trump. We talked about her experience Monday seeing President Obama for the first time, an experience that she was so motivated to make happen. Toward the end of our conversation, she said that she finally finished Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Not that I’m equating President-Elect Trump to the Dark Lord, but we talked about how even with Voldemort, people supported him. It may have been out of fear and group loyalty, but it was support nonetheless. And whil…

Letter to the Editor Regarding DeVos

***Update:  At the time this letter was read at Monday’s board meeting, the hearing regarding Betsy DeVos’ nomination as the secretary of education was still scheduled for Wednesday, January 11. Later that evening, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions postponed the hearing until January 17 at 5:00 PM.

This is a letter to the editor that I will submit for the January 12 edition of the Belleville-Area Independent
-----
To the Editor:
This week marks a defining moment for public education in the United States. On Wednesday, January 11, a hearing will have taken place regarding Betsy DeVos’ nomination as the secretary of education.
During the past few board meetings, I have expressed my concerns publicly about Mrs. DeVos’ appointment to the top education post, and I reiterate those same concerns here. I have contacted Senator Stabenow and Peter’s offices, and they both have now expressed their concerns regarding this appointment and have vowed to…

My Year in Reading

Although I won't meet my goal of reading 165 books by midnight tonight, I did read quite a few great books this year worth sharing. Other personal goals including reading more with my ears and getting over my hesitancy to read non-fiction. I did accomplish those two, although it's taken me months to get through the audio version of Endurance (I think this has caused a bit of an audio reading slump). I categorized my favorites of this past year below:

Picture Book: A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers

This book reminded me of words and their ability to lead us down thousands of different paths and journeys. Children and adults can appreciate the intertextuality of this book. Stories change us forever.

Non-Fiction: What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine by Danielle Ofri

This is a book that I seem to mention to every teacher friend of mine. There are so many parallels between the lives of doctors and teachers that we really need to explore how we can become a…