As students anticipate their first day back to school and teachers are making preparations for their first days of school, I find myself reminiscing a lot about my years as a full time teacher.
This year will be the first since 2004, that I truly have no intentions of returning to the classroom on a full time basis, ever again. The feelings I’m experiencing are scary and are leaving me lost but that is a rambling for another day.
In 2004, I student taught under a wonderful mentor who would wind up being my teaching partner for the next 13 years, until I was forced to resign for health reasons. The beginning of my teaching career at Brabham was uneventful in the sense that someone left mid-year and I was asked to fill the spot. There was no interview, just a phone call from my mentor telling me that there was a position and I was who they wanted to fill it.
The “someone” that left was a soldier. He had served several tours in Iraq and when he came home had a desire to teach. He was in the process of earning his alternative certification while teaching 8th grade history.
When I was student teaching, the powers that be decided that my mentor had too many students in her classes and the soldier turned teacher didn’t have enough. Belinda was given the task of divvying up students from her class roster in order to create another class or two for the soldier. One afternoon, Belinda and I sat together and went through the list of her students and picked the “rowdier” ones to bequeath to the soldier. By this time, the end of my student teaching stint was coming to a close. I would be going on to my next assignment at the high school. I believe this was October of 2004.
I finished out my time at Brabham. Tears were shed and I moved on. Come December 5th I got the call that I mentioned earlier. “Julie, the soldier is resigning, we need you.” He wasn’t referred to as the soldier in any conversation but I can’t remember his name to save my life.
Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I hadn’t even graduated yet and I was being offered a job.
I met with the soldier so we could discuss what he covered. What I needed to cover and so and so forth. I asked him why he was resigning. He was very honest. “I thought that I would be able to tell them what I expected and they would just do it, like we do in the military.” Poor guy, I bet he was miserable from day one.
I started in January right after Christmas break. I had ideas of grandeur and a belly full of passion. Sadly, I cried almost every day from day one until the last day of school. It was a trial by fire with a whole lot of kharma.
Recall that Belinda and I had handpicked the rowdier kids to fill the classes of the soldier. Never once did either one of us foresee that those classes would be mine in the very near future. People, it was rough. I was a “rookie” with some of the rowdiest kids on campus due to my own volition.
Karma was my teacher, in this scenario. I learned many things from her.
FIrst of all, put yourself in someone else’s shoes before you make a decision that directly affects them. I have found myself changing my course of action as that little angel on my shoulder whispers, “remember what you did to that poor soldier.” I deeply regret doing that to him.
Trial by fire is not necessarily a bad thing. I guess it’s like they say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Guys, there were days I thought I was going to die a slow, painful death at the hands of disgruntled 8th graders. There were days I didn’t want to return to the hell that Belinda and I had created. However, one of my roughest years by far, was also the year in which my foundation of teaching was laid. Don’t get me wrong, my teaching evolved every year, sometimes daily over the years to come, however the soldiers classes in which I inherited made me stronger on the front lines in the long run. The students in those classes taught me things that I didn’t learn in my textbooks nor in the teacher classes that were numerous and mundane in nature.
Even the rowdiest kids need someone and I was there someone. Over the years, I developed relationships with the rowdy kids. I was drawn to them and them to me. My affinity for the “misfits” has deep seated roots in that first, half year of teaching. I learned early on that the relationship between teacher and student had to come first. They are like animals in the sense that they can smell fear. They can tell if you are genuine. They are smarter than we give them credit for. Once those relationships were established, the learning would commence.
Give yourself permission to “soldier on.” This goes for teacher and student alike. I was pushed to my limit on several occasions that year, and truth be told, numerous times in years to follow. I soldiered on though tears and snot bubbles but I soldiered on. As I look back, I think of how everyone in the “karma class” would have been affected had I given up and not given myself permission to keep on keepin’ on, albeit painful at times. At the same time, I look back fondly on the actions of the “rowdies.” They tried me from day one. Feet on the desk, throwing things across the room, refusing to work. They were testing the waters, testing my heart and testing my true intentions. Once they gave themselves permission to trust and give me a shot, the feet starting coming down from the desktops, there was less destruction and more work being accomplished.
Some of my best and hardest lessons learned have roots in adversity, even if self-inflicted. As a teacher, a mother of two or a wife to the mustached man child, I’ve learned. As a Chiari warrior, daughter of a mentally ill mother and a daughter in law, I’ve learned. My best and hardest lessons have come from the darkest of moments. There is something to be said for lessons learned during the storms. Weathering the storms suck but if you can anchor yourself and hold on tight you will eventually bask in the warm rays of sunshine when the dark clouds part. Granted, some storms last longer than others. Some seem to linger on only letting up now and then. But in those times of adversity there are lessons folks. Seek them and learn from them.
I am happy to report that I keep up with kids from that first half year. They are productive members of society. Some with kiddos of their own. I have to wonder if “2004 classroom karma” will bite them in the butt when their babies are in 8th grade. I have to say, that thought gives me a sense of twisted satisfaction.