For me, education is the way to go. For one, everyone who I tell that I'm an English major asks me if I want to teach, and I'm tired of changing their minds. On a more serious note, I personally love teaching because I see it as a direct way of helping others get a step up. So many good teachers, both in high school and in college, have shaped my world and the way that I see it, that I only want to do the same for others. Since college, I've tried to explore all sorts of teaching opportunities: from tutoring fifth graders at a local primary school through Emory Reads, to teaching campers how loved they are by God as a camp counselor. So, naturally, when I was given the opportunity to teach a one-credit health course to freshmen, I jumped at the chance.
Leading a health classroom once a week appears, on the surface, to be a piece of cake. The Emory students who lead this course are known as PHPs (peer health partners), and our role is simply to transmit information from faculty to approximately fifteen first years. We don't come up with the modules. We don't grade midterms. We are not allowed to get into fights with students about their grades. Our role is limited to facilitating the weekly classroom, conveying the information the faculty have given us and helping the students succeed in their exams and assignments. Basically, all we as PHPs have to do is figure out how to lead a classroom with our given information for fifty minutes at a time.
Although I had a much easier job than other faculty members, I still had many insecurities surrounding my role. For one – I do not specialize in wellness. As an English major, I struggled with transmitting biological terms (such as explaining stress pathways). On a related note, I knew I was still learning a lot of the material that I was teaching. I would advise my students to fulfill the recommended seven hours of sleep every night, and then barely make going to sleep before 2am myself. I also feared that I would be responsible for my students' success in the health course. My students would either pass or fail because of my teaching, regardless of the work that they themselves put in. This responsibility is terrifying – especially considering that my students were only a grade younger than myself. I mean: being in charge of fifteen people who are your age and who know basically everything you do? Should that even be allowed?
When I actually started leading lessons, it was nothing that I expected it to be. I loved it and I disliked it for different reasons that I had initially thought, which turned my preconceptions of teaching upside down. What I loved absolutely most about teaching wasn't so much running a classroom: it was being a mentor for my students. In light of college being difficult, I started using my weekly fifty-minute class to speak encouragement to my students. My affirmations didn't drastically change their lives, and it certainly wasn't the end-all of their struggling. But I loved how I could use my platform as a PHP to speak positivity into their lives and to tell them that I believed in them.
But teaching my class wasn't all sunshine and roses. I disliked how I would have to balance my teaching along with the rest of my schoolwork. I wanted to give my students my all – but I also had papers to write and exams to study for. Another area of struggle was engaging my students. Many of my students would not do the readings, would not pay attention and would stare at me blankly when I asked a question. On the one hand, I understood their struggle – I was teaching a required class, so many of my students were not passionate about the material. Their lack of interest forced me to acknowledge that, no matter how hard I try, there will be unresponsive students who would prefer to not be in my classroom. I did not have full control over my students' opinions of my class; instead, all I could do is try my best and facilitate my class with compassion and consideration.
On a final important (and cheesy) note, I taught my students a lot, but they taught me even more. They taught me how to not feel dumb after no one responds to my questions, and how to laugh at myself when things go wrong. They taught me that I can try my best and no one will receive my efforts, but also how to treat unresponsive students with kindness. They taught me how every single student has a story and an opinion worth knowing, even if they never share them in class. They taught me that, in the end, I'm a student working out my life right alongside them. Most importantly, they taught me that I am fully capable of speaking for fifty minutes in front of a classroom with a thermos of coffee in my hand and a smile, even when speaking in public makes me want to crawl under a table. I don't know what my future in teaching will look like. I only know that I move forward, knowing that even challenging classrooms can have their rewards – and, of course, how to stand the long, awkward silence after asking a question.