One of the best parts of being a writer for a website like Odyssey is having the wonderful opportunity to connect with my community and hear stories from various perspectives. For me, that most interesting perspective was that of a teacher. It's a tough job that some of the strongest and smartest people I know have, but I really wanted to understand, "What comes with being a teacher?"
I asked two of my teachers what it meant to be an educator, and their responses has been an inspiring, eye-opening experience. The stories they told are amazing, and I am honored to be able to share them.
Please note that all names were changed to protect identities. All text in brackets has been added for grammar or privacy purposes.
1. When the school year first starts, how do you feel about your new students?
"At the beginning of a new school year, I am always excited to meet my new students. From the very beginning, I try to connect with each and every student. I explain that we will be together for 180 days this year, and it will be the best 180 years of the year (always add some humor).”
"For the majority of teachers, the start of the school year is very awkward. Your students have yet to figure you out and your personality. Your jokes can't really come out until after you complete all of the 'start of the year stuff,' too. It's a weird time of figuring one another out. On the hand, the beginning of a new year is so exciting because it holds so much potential to make new connections with kids and new memories."
2. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment right now? What is the best part about being a teacher?
“My greatest accomplishments as a teacher are the connections I've made with so many students. Connecting with a student that I taught in tenth grade was major. This student had very little support at home. Her mother and sisters did not graduate from high school, so I took this student under my wings to break that cycle. I spoke to her regularly her junior year, pushing her to attend summer school to make up classes she had failed. At the beginning of her senior year, I spoke with her counselor, making her aware of the circumstances at home. Together, we became a tag team duo to push this student toward her high school diploma. She made it! The three of us cried together at graduation. This is why I do what I do!
“Many look at me as a ‘mother’ figure. This has allowed them to share personal trials and accomplishments with me. The joy of helping students with obstacles or self-doubt is rewarding. To watch a student grow and reach their goals is the best part of being a teacher.”
“My greatest accomplishment as a teacher is surviving. Just kidding. In all seriousness, I would say it's helping students find their way in high school. High school is a tough and stressful time. Often students are afraid to take risks or explore their creativity because they fear not doing well or looking dumb. When we can create a relaxed and safe classroom, students are willing to grow. I feel honored that students say how comfortable they feel in my classroom and that they've learned a lot. They may not have always loved what we were learning, but they enjoyed the time they had with me as their teacher.
“Hands down, the best part about being a teacher is getting to work with kids. They can drive me crazy, but I fiercely love them. I laugh so much working at my job and it is so fulfilling. Kids surprise me every day with their strength, silliness, and stories. I'm so thankful that I get to be a part of their journey and watch them grow."
3. When you first became a teacher, what did you hope to do as a role model? What was your goal?
“When I first became a teacher, I'm not sure that I looked at myself as a role model. Later, my goal became to inspire all students to have a little fun while learning."
“When I was in high school, I was never the 'smart kid.' I really struggled with school, and all my teachers knew it. I have always been a hard worker, but it can be hard when no one acknowledges your merits or dedication. By the time I got to twelfth grade, my British Literature teacher was the first teacher that I ever had that called me a 'good writer.' That moment has always stuck out to me that it took so long in my primary schooling to be acknowledged and recognized for my hard work. It was just a simple thing he did for me, but it has always meant a lot.
"As a teacher, my goal has been and always will be to push my students to become the best writers and readers they can be but to make sure that they know that every step of the way that they can do this and that they have someone in their corner that believes in them.”
4. What is your favorite memory? Why do you love that memory so much?
“My all-time favorite memory is returning rubrics after a Socratic Seminar. One student, John, jumped up and screamed because he did not like his grade. Within minutes, the bell rang. He exited the classroom and slammed the door. I walked behind him and told him to return and open the door, that this was not his room, nor was I his mother. He was mad for days, yet I called on him to engage him in classroom discussions. In one particular assignment, he shared his journal writing. As with all the students, I complimented him on it, for he had followed directions for the writing process. The next class period, students were struggling to understand. I shared his paragraph as an example. He learned that I shared his as an example and told me that I could share it with my students next year too.
"John emailed during Christmas Break to tell me that he was transferring to a private school. In that email, he mentioned that I was his ‘all-time favorite’ teacher. He said he had never had a teacher that cared as much as I did, and that he will never forget me. He returned to [the school] for his senior year. He selected me to wear his football button for senior night, he mentioned me as his most inspirational teacher for basketball senior night and when he signed his college athletic scholarship, he said that out of all his teachers throughout school, I was the one that pushed him to do better.
“I love this memory because it reminds me to not to be afraid to discipline students. This shows that you care.”
“Working with people is never easy, especially teenagers. Teaching is hard. People will never understand how time-consuming it is and how much energy it requires to write lesson plans, grade, teach, encourage students, encourage parents and go to endless meetings. If you do not love this job and love working with kids, it is very challenging to keep your spirits up. You'll certainly have more critics than fans.
“For me though, the greatest gift that I can give to my students is to pour my love into my craft and into building a classroom family setting and expecting nothing in return. Some of my favorite memories revolve around students acknowledging that they feel appreciated and cared for in my class. The memory that sticks out the most is probably the first time a student was overjoyed from receiving my praise. I was student teaching with seventh graders, and I was having a writing conference with a young gentleman. I coached him with his writing, and he made revisions after revisions to his paper. When he was finally done, I had told him he took a really great job, and that he should be proud of himself. This young boy wasn't just happy, he was beaming. He had told me that no one had ever told him that he had done good work in school before. He then ran off with the biggest smile on his face.
“I carry that moment with me because I was shocked that his former teachers had let him go this long without knowing his worth. I have 150 kids that come through my classroom every day. I never want a student to feel that they are unseen. We must always choose kindness. It doesn't take much for someone to feel appreciated and loved. It can be something as simple as a smile and a hello.”
5. When the year ends, what do you feel is the worst part about leaving your students each year? Do you wish you could stay with them longer?
"At the end of the year, the worst part is saying goodbye. I do wish that I could stay with them a bit longer, however, the goal is for them to progress."
“I cry every day on the last day of school. It's rewarding to see the end of a school year come to a close, but saying goodbye to the people that have filled your heart for the past year is hard. It's kind of like a relationship break-up. You know it's coming and that it's time to move on, even though you don't want them to go, but you'll always be thankful for the memories. My students challenge me and have taught me so many things about teaching and about life. I'm thankful for the opportunity to grow with them, and I'm especially thankful for when they come back to visit, often with a side tackle hug. There's almost a fear that your next group of kids will never be as good as the ones you currently have. You'll never love a group of kids as much as these, but you do, and the circle of teaching pushes on.”
Teachers deserve more credit than they're given because it takes a strong person to empower others. Being able to read about these experiences showed me that a teacher is someone who not only teaches academics to students but also guides them to be better people, and that kind of selflessness is amazing.
I want to thank my two teachers who agreed to be interviewed. I appreciate everything you do to educate the youth of the world.