It feels like just yesterday I was walking into my fall student teaching placement, sitting in the cafeteria, with my cooperating teacher who I didn’t know, meeting high school students and teachers I would be spending the next 4 months with. As each student walked through the cafeteria, my ears perked up to hear the names the teachers would call out in greeting, trying to memorize face and names of students in my classroom, as well as students I would encounter on a daily basis. I remember being terrified to look at a student too long, or say something that would make it clear I am neither a Chicago native, nor an actual teacher yet.
I regret being so timid. I wish I would have announced to all of them how much I knew I would love them, and how much I knew I would miss them. I’m positive they would call me crazy and laugh at me. They do this every day anyway, and it’s really not the worst thing that can happen.
I had 9 students on my roster, and only 4 showed up. One had been hospitalized, one had been incarcerated, one didn’t show up for almost 4 weeks after school began, and the other two didn’t realize school had started that day. I looked at the 4 students, trying not to show my anxiety about what the semester would hold. I hadn’t even attended public school, let alone been in an alternative high school with students with behavioral & emotional disabilities who have suffered trauma in some way. The setting was daunting, but I knew it would be one I would not quickly forget.
Through the weeks & months, I felt more stressed as my workload balance between my own schoolwork and preparing schoolwork, lessons, assessments, and fun activities for my students was really weighing on me.
At the end of each day, I praised God that I had the students that I did. Some days I would get cussed at more than my own name, had garbage and books thrown around the classroom, and had moments when only one student showed up for class.
Some days I had students arguing so loudly and vehemently about how terrible Columbus was, that I had never felt more out of control in the classroom, then I overheard them mutter to each other, “That’s the most important thing I’ve learned all year.” I taught on Native Americans, #NativeLivesMatter, & activism, and heard Mr. Tough Student astoundingly ask, “I can do that too?”
Teaching is hard. Teaching special ed is hard. Teaching special ed at a behavioral school is hard. I learned so much this semester about teaching, but more importantly about people. I try to live by the motto, “People Matter.” I hadn’t truly grasped its weight until this year when I could see the difference when asking a student, “Hey, how are you?” or discussing their interests, rather than shouting at them down the hallway and telling them, “You’re a bad kid.”
My students may forget all about habitats, the novel we read together, what their immune system does, and Day of the Dead traditions, but my hope is that they never forget their weird student teacher they had in 2015 who loved them.
I have not been perfect by any means, and have lost my cool far too often, and with held grace when it was in my power to extend it. But, holy cow, do I love these kids. Tomorrow is my last day, and I am so sad. I am so thankful to have had the crew I had this year, and will never forget them.
“You won’t like them all, and the tough ones show up for a reason. It’s the connection. It’s the relationships. So, teachers become great actors and great actresses, and we come to work when we don’t feel like it, and we’re listening to policy that doesn’t make sense, and we teach anyway. We teach anyway, because that’s what we do. Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best they can possibly be. Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this. We’re educators. We’re born to make a difference.” Rita Pierson, TED Talk