The reason I teach is you
This post has been percolating for a good long while. I’ve gone back and forth on posting it for several weeks. Isn’t it too mushy? Too personal? Too much? Is it silly? Ridiculous even? I still don’t know the answer, but I know I want to post it, so here it goes: this is basically a love letter to my students.
We’re currently finishing up the school year and though I’ll be returning to my academy next year, it won’t be the same, for a variety of reasons. In many ways, these weeks feel like one long goodbye. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this past year, because it was an assignment for my teacher training course, but also because, y’all? It’s been a year. I missed the first day of class in September, because that day my mother called me to say that my Oma had been hospitalized unexpectedly, things were serious, and the doctors had told the family to come say goodbye. She died a couple of days later. Then November began a series of professional kicks in the teeth that left me reeling on several occasions during the rest of the school year – until as recently as today, in fact. But there was one thing that kept pulling me through, that had me coming back to work every single day, and that made me feel good about how I spent my days. That reason, dear reader, was you.
Yes, you. No need to awkwardly look over your shoulder for someone else I might be addressing. If you are a student, or if you ever were a student – and I’m pretty sure we all were once – I mean you. What follows is how I feel, but I’m certain many – probably most – teachers feel the same way, at least to some degree. If you were or are a student, but were never a teacher, it may be hard to believe, but trust me on this.
Why do I mean you? And why did you keep me going? Because you make me wonder and marvel, you make me hope and despair, you inspire and infuriate me, you delight and terrify me, you make me laugh and make me sigh, you make me root for you, you make me feel for you, and you make me want to be better. As a class of individuals, you are so exceptionally diverse, so magnificently unpredictable. How could I not adore you for that? From the minute you first walk into my classroom, you start burrowing under my skin. You worm your way into my heart, and there you sit: mine. My student, and as you are my student, I will go to bat for you. You energize me, even – particularly – on bad days.
You might still think I don’t mean you. I promise you, I do. Even if you
- failed my course. I trust you can pass, I trust your abilities, and I know you are working hard.
- got angry with me in class because of something I said or did. We worked it out, and if we haven’t yet, we will.
- challenged me on your grades or my evaluation of your performance. We have talked it over (and maybe you were right!) and if we haven’t yet, let’s. There’s no point in being given feedback if you don’t understand it or fundamentally disagree.
- rolled your eyes in class because we were discussing something you already knew. I know how it feels to not feel challenged and even if I can’t change it, because you’re just slightly too advanced for my courses, I can empathize.
- didn’t understand most of what went on in class, or what’s going on in this post. You, too, have the ability to succeed at English.
- were given feedback that made you believe I’m upset with you as a person or that you thought was harsh. It might mean I know you are excellent, but you could be a bit more serious about your work.
- were sent to the exam committee for irregularities in your work, for sharing your work with others, or for using others’ work as too-literal inspiration. College can be a steep learning curve.
- think I’m full of shit. Hey, I didn’t think all my teachers and professors were completely amazing either. It’s okay. Sometimes people don’t mesh well.
Finally, I’d like to thank you. For a great many things, but especially for
- lobbying for me. I don’t think you’ll ever know how much I appreciated that – and still do.
- daring to speak up in class, whether it was in English or in Dutch.
- challenging me every single day.
- giving me feedback, even with your name attached, even before I’d graded your assignments – but also anonymously. It’s much appreciated and taken into serious consideration.
- questioning me and what we discussed in class.
- letting me know that you used things we discussed in class and how that worked out for you.
- asking me for help.
- daring to think boldly, bravely, internationally.
- saying “hi” when we saw each other outside of school, even though I know seeing a teacher outside of school can feel like seeing an elephant dance in a pink tutu.
- pointedly ignoring me when you spotted me on a date. Man, wasn’t that awkward!?
- laughing at my geeky jokes, and even if you didn’t, appreciating (or at least not mocking) my attempts at humor anyway.
- asking me to teach outside. It was sticky and kind of gross, but also a whole new take on teaching, and I’ll definitely repeat it when I can, in the future.
- sharing personal things with me, things that may not have always been easy to share. I hope you never lose the ability to trust others with yourself.
- jumping on the Silly Express to Ridiculousville with me and talking about your first date even if you hadn’t had one yet, the gnome who lives under your bed, and the color of your toenails.
- writing excellent poetry about physics. Some of my favorites are tacked on my wall and they never fail to make me smile.
- writing excellent poetry about physics, turning that poem into a song, and letting me know about it.
- showing up for class at 8:45. That stuff’s easy for literally none of us.
I could keep going, but I’ve gone on for 1,000 words already, so I think this will have to do. Many thanks to all of you. Kick ass on your projects, slaughter your resits, and enjoy your summer.