May 18, 2017

the first year

tomorrow is the last day of my very first year teaching. 

growing up, I always said I would never be a teacher. my mom is a teacher and I always said I wanted to do something different, so I thought. it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college when I began working with a non-profit called Art Feeds at a local autism center when I began to feel my path alter. it was there I was able to feel first hand the impact you are able to make on a day in and day out basis. I was able to form relationships between the littles I was working with and getting to know their individual quirks and stories. it was then I found what God was calling me to do.

however, I knew I didn’t want to just be a teacher. after countless hours spent observing in classrooms all over the board and later becoming the Art Director at my local Boys and Girls Club through the rest of my college years, I knew I wanted to teach at a title 1 school. I wanted to be a teacher in a high poverty school.

though my mom often told me she wondered and worried if I could do it with my sensitive disposition, I knew it was being laid on my heart for a reason. come may of 2016, I was offered and accepted a 1st grade teaching position at a title 1 school in Joplin, Missouri. 

there were days this year I loved my job so much that I couldn’t have imaged being anywhere else, and there were days this year I wondered how any teacher makes it to retirement. I found there is an incredible amount of never-ending expectations thrown on teachers. I also found that those expectations just don’t matter if you’re in the profession for the right reasons. there were lots of  phone calls made to my mom after hard days in question of if I could really do it, if I could really take on all the responsibilities that my job entailed. I could, and I did.

I learned more in these past 10 months than the 24 years that I have been alive combined. I learned that there is absolutely nothing that a college degree can prepare you for when it comes to a title 1 classroom. I learned that procedures, rules and curriculum knowledge can only get you so far. I learned that nothing can prepare you to be able to comfort the student who watched his mother get beat by her boyfriend over the weekend, or to be able to comfort the child that hasn’t seen their mother in the past 3 weeks. I learned nothing prepares you for the emotionally closed-off student who comes up to you with wide, tear filled eyes speaking nothing but 4 words: “my dad quit us” as he then tumbles into your chest, soaking your shirt with his uncontrollable tears while you hold him as his little body shakes. I learned that there is ALWAYS a reason, and it is imperative that we set aside time to listen. The student getting in fights with so much anger, is because “he is mad that his grandpa died without him getting to tell him bye,” and the best way to handle that is to hold him and cry with him. I learned that the student falling asleep every afternoon during math, is because there were people in and out of her house all night while she tried sleeping on the couch, because she doesn’t have a room of her own. And the little boy, stealing extra breakfast from the breakfast cart in the morning, isn’t because he is being dishonest, it’s because he is hungry and saving food for his sister and him to eat over the weekend. The student who is constantly yelling and shouting out in class, isn’t because he is trying to be disrespectful of the raise your hand rule, it’s because he goes home after school each day to a place where he isn’t able to talk because no one responds or gives him the time of day. I learned that some students will challenge you like nothing ever has before, but I also learned that same student who is pushing you harder than you have ever been pushed, will be the same student you can’t stop worrying about and praying extra for when you are laying in your safe bed at night. I witnessed the effects of bad parenting, abusive parenting and no parenting. I witnessed the damage poverty does to children. I learned that my students trusted me. they didn’t doubt me, or make me prove myself. they trusted me and it was so freely and innocently given, a gift that I held very closely all year. I learned just how vulnerable my students were without them even understanding the concept of being vulnerable. they didn’t understand that being vulnerable was something they will fear as they grow older. it was something I consistently encouraged, for them to speak and express their feelings and emotions because they were important and worthy of being heard. 

but I also learned the absolute JOY of teaching at a title 1 school. I was able to be a constant for 24 littles. a constant positive influence. a constant listening ear. a constant safe place. a constant loving hug. a constant encourager. a constant “good morning.”a constant “see you tomorrow, love you,” because they never had to wonder if I would walk out of them, I was a constant tomorrow. over the course of 10 months, the walls of my room transformed from a classroom, to a family. a family that loved each other, fought for each other, and grew with each other. the things I witnessed were things I could have never prepared my heart for. I came into this school year being 23 years old and no children of my own. I am leaving being 24 years old, with 24 students who I will always love deeply. 

I am going to struggle with not being in control of them being told that they are loved, how they are safe, how they are worthy and important. I know I will think of each of them each day this summer..  wondering, hoping, and praying for them all. I know it is impossible to be their teacher for the rest of their school years, but if given the chance, I would have wholeheartedly taken it. 

I find comfort in knowing from the time they were “mine,” they knew all those things on a daily basis. I find comfort in being be able to certain that I woke up each day these past 10 months and showed up for them, and though teaching may not have always happened due to outstanding circumstances, loving always did.