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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.

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