Rule #1 about teaching. About other people’s children. DON’T BELIEVE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT ME, AND I WON’T BELIEVE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT YOU.
I’m chuckling, as this applies just as much to this moment that just transpired, in which my second grader came running up to me after school and announced: “Our teacher gave us skittles for going home and telling our parents we have the best teacher ever.”
School has started again, for almost all of us. For me, the beginning of a second year of teaching High School. This brings up a lot of emotions in me. Some pride (because I’ve barely had time to do a thing on my planning periods or before or after school, because so many students have come for hugs, confessionals or advice already), some fear (was it beginner’s luck?), some nostalgia (Will I love this year’s students as much? It can’t be possible!).
I have my own room this year, and as I was telling my coworker, after having to change rooms every hour last year, log off, collect belongings, battle the crowds, navigate different technologies, lose supplies and never get to pee, I feel downright lazy standing around in the doorway of my room between classes, letting all the students come to me. I grew up the daughter of a college professor. Schlepping across campus was status quo. Decorating a room wasn’t a possibility. So it didn’t phase me that much last year to have to change rooms (although the time crunch did put some added stress, and being pregnant the.entire.year. did too). Now I’m fighting the urge to “tell on myself” to someone in an authority position that I’m not stressing and not flustered, and in general, feeling really spoiled by not having to move all day. Do I dare? It feels like a secret I shouldn’t let out!
I have only one year under my belt, so not enough to know what I’m doing completely, but I can hear my mother’s own words, who just retired after thirty years of teaching college, resonating with my own experience already. Already I am digging a little deeper into the content of what I’m attempting to teach. Adding another layer to their learning, by adding to my own. Building on what I did last year. I used to think that teachers just know what they know…and then you know, teach it. When my mom told me this past summer that she’s a much, much better teacher now, because she’s had thirty years of learning (and she’s a national expert), I misunderstood her at first. What do you mean by learned? Learned how to teach, you mean?” Thirty years is a long time to iron out the kinks of managing students. “No, learning WHAT to teach,” she responded. “I just KNOW so much more about it than I did even tens year ago. My classes are so much deeper now. They get so much more from me.”
Not until I opened up last year’s lesson plan and realized that, now that I knew when and how I was going to teach, and I didn’t have to figure that element out anymore, I have the time to extend and deepen WHAT I’m going to teach. I’m just starting, but even today, on the third day of school, I caught myself adding a few more layers into my own education, and hopefully, into theirs. The Norman Conquest, sure…but what about how the invention of stirrups kicked war into high gear?! Need to learn the French alphabet? Ok. But let’s start by figuring out where the word alphabet came from to start, just for kicks.
When I considered how long my mother has taught, and how she ardently claims to teach so much better now, I paused for a moment, and wondered if it wasn’t a bit unfair. Too bad for those first years of students, who got her fresh out of the gate. Right?
But here’s the thing: There is a magic in beginnings. I’ve no doubt the first students, when you’re first beginning, imbibe a special energy from you. Your enthusiasm, if nothing else. Sure, they may not learn to the depth that your students will twenty years from now. But console yourself with this: they are getting to see someone modeling the courage to begin.
And we all have to start somewhere. Yes, we do. We have to start somewhere, and where we start, if we continue, persists, and hopefully deepen our craft, won’t be nearly as potent as where we end up. Our beginnings won’t be fully matured as our endings. Our first years at anything aren’t always our greatest work (just ask any parent). Our first written words towards our novel aren’t usually eloquent. Our first paint strokes, a chaotic, often disappointing result. Beginnings: Our nerves are high, our confidence sometimes shaky, but it is also a fertile, irreplicable place.
Can you stop and see the magic in it?
Can you tap into what got you there to begin with? To the brush in your hand? To being out on the porch swing, ignoring your family’s needs, typing out your heart at a breakneck pace, no matter how disappointing the sentences seem to unravel?
Can you feel that what brought you to begin in the first place, is simply, and profoundly, the belief in possibility? What, in the end, could be more important than that?
If you are a beginner teacher, or a beginner at anything, the essence of possibility is all that you need in the beginning. And that is everything. The beginning is, after all, just the beginning.