I consider the Compelled Tribe topic for the week: stories of professional growth. I place the concept in my mouth and chew it, slowly. Stories of professional growth. Stories of professional growth.
I’m in graduate school. I stand in front of my very first class on the very first day of my internship and realize, Oh shit. I still have 20 minutes left. Like an oven, I feel my face pre-heating to 500 degrees. I have no backup plan or experience on which to fall back. The students start talking amongst themselves, and I fade to the back of the room and try to look busy with whatever scraps of paper I find on my “desk.” At home, I cry. But then I plan. And plan. And by the end of the night, I have designed enough lessons to teach an extra two weeks before running out of things to do. Professional growth.
It’s my first year of teaching. I don’t know it at the time, but the experience is akin to being a first time mother. I want to be so much to those kids – their inspiration, their educator, their role model. On that first day of school, my heart runneth over with the prospect of Changing People’s Lives. Fast forward to a Tuesday in month three and I’m sending two freshmen to the nurses’ office because they won’t stop farting in class. These are not the things for which graduate school prepares you. That year, I cry a lot. I cry because I’m tired. I cry because I’m overwhelmed. I cry because everyone else in my department is pushing 60, because I’m also the yearbook adviser, and because there’s no supply cabinet and I have to buy my own tape. But most of all I cry because I know – I know – I am not yet the teacher I aspire to be. Professional growth.
I’m in my fourth year of teaching. There’s a girl in my AP Lang class who radiates contempt for everything I teach, and it seems at times, for me personally. I can’t understand why, and sometimes her actions frustrate me to the point of – yep, you guessed it – crying. Because I have a modicum of self-restraint, I don’t cry at the school, but I’m sure the other students sense the tension between us. I ask her to stay after class so we can talk. She thwarts my efforts for an entire week – rushing out as quickly as she can – before I’m finally able to convince her to stay. We stand facing each other. The room is dimly lit by the overhead projector and the sounds of other students fade down the hallway as everyone leaves for the day. I ask, “What’s going on?” She tells me that her mom has brain cancer. I am momentarily stunned. She apologizes for her behavior toward me, but says she just can’t bring herself to care about articles concerning obesity in America. How can I blame her? I realize that it was never about me. We cry. We hug. Humility stares me in the face: it was never about me. Professional growth.
If life is like a box of chocolates, the tears I’ve cried as a teacher are like a box of crayons. Some represent the absolute joys of working with teenagers – the radical red and the electric lime. Some are the color of frustration and angst – raw umber and shadow. Some tears are just cerulean relief and others are hopeful mountain meadow.
Tears have often signaled watershed moments of my professional growth, and I guess I’m not surprised by this realization. All living things need water to grow, and teachers are the amazing living things who Change People’s Lives.