Friday, September 30, 2011

it's the little things.

One thing that is great about kids and teens is how blissfully unaware they often are when they say something that truly warms someone’s heart. I remember when I was a kid, I once remarked to my grandmother, who always keeps a jar of gummy bears in her house (which we grandkids would always delightedly dig into), that someday I would have such a jar when I had my own home. My grandma thanked me, and expressed that she was so genuinely touched by this. At the time, I thought she was being silly and a little overdramatic getting all happy over something like that. But now that I’m older, I understand why. I had acknowledged that that little jar was a part of my childhood and something that made me happy enough that I wanted to emulate what she was doing. And if I do end up having a jar of gummy bears in my future house, perhaps when I’m a grandmother, it’ll be almost like a tiny tribute to her.

One of my favorite things about being a teacher is when my students create these kinds of sweet, small moments. We teachers tend to get wrapped up in the everyday hustle and bustle, the planning and grading and disciplining and meetings and running around and supervising and lecturing and a million other things. Let’s face it: it’s exhausting. And it’s easy to become a little bit cynical at times. Students are constantly complaining, not doing homework, making excuses, and acting up, and it can be easy to forget just how wonderful they can be and why we chose this career path in the first place. Now I’m not saying that every day leaves me feeling drained; there are good days and bad days, good classes and bad classes. I really do love what I do.

But it’s those small moments that we tend to store up for a rainy day. Last year, one of my female students said out of the blue, “Y’know, I feel like if I met you on the street, and you weren’t my teacher, that we’d be friends.” For her, this seemed to be just an off-hand comment. She was simply sharing a sudden realization with me. But for me, it was a surprising moment—here was a girl who was struggling to get a C, who I was pushing and pushing to do better, because I knew she was capable of it, yet she still felt a positive connection with me. And it’s not just the moments when students like me personally that make me happy (because I don’t think that being liked can be a successful teacher’s first priority). Recently, one of my CP1 students (which is the average level), a boy with gauges in his ears who wear the same sweatshirt every day, asked me, “When are we reading that ‘flies’ book?” I asked if he meant Lord of the Flies. He enthusiastically responded, “YEAH, that book sounds AWESOME!” A few days later, when I handed out the chapter 4 homework for The Secret Life of Bees (a book whose characters are almost all women), he said, just sort of talking to himself, that he had already read chapter 4, so all he had left for that night was the questions. Wait, a kid not only did the reading, but voluntarily READ AHEAD?! What alternate universe had I entered? His enthusiasm for reading was beyond thrilling to me. If I had told him my reaction, he’d probably think I’m an even bigger dork than his initial impressions of me indicated. But his attitude was just so refreshingly fantastic that I couldn’t help geeking out over it in my head.

Then yesterday, I saw something else that made me very happy. A couple of my former seniors, who just graduated last year, became Facebook friends with me over the summer (though they’re on my extremely limited profile, so they can see almost nothing). I saw on my newsfeed that one of them had posted about “Jersey Shore” (gag). But here’s where it gets good: another one of them commented on it saying, “Guess what movie is on, but I can’t watch it….THE JOY LUCK CLUB!” (We read that book in class, and the students usually complained about it.) She then continued with “….I miss English classss :/” It’s just really nice to know that my class wasn’t just something that she sees as having survived—she actually misses it. And those CP2 students (which is the lower level) once told me that I was making them work harder than they had ever worked before in high school, so that just makes the comment extra special.

These students have no idea about the effect their words can have on their teachers. But on days when I’m frustrated or in one of my “I hate people” moods, these little moments have the power to remind me that this is all worth it; I just need to weather the storm until things start looking up again.

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