At the very core of education, in your own classroom, there is nothing like the magic of educating kids. Nothing. You see moments in a kid’s life, flashes of brilliance and frustration; you hear them laugh, you see them cry. Sometimes you make them cry, and you steel your heart to their tears because you know what you are saying is for their own good.
You are mom, friend, sister; you are at once the coolest cat and the biggest bitch; you will love them, and have days where you could climb a mountain; you will hate them and have days where you wish it was still legal to spank them.
You will love their parents and you will hate their parents. You will see some beautiful souls and some souls bound for the deepest parts of hell. You will hear stories that make you believe in the human spirit, and stories that give you nightmares and make you hug your kids a little tighter. Students will lie to your face; parents will lie to your face. One day, a student will tell you a truth so terrible that you will wish they had lied. You will help them while your heart is breaking inside.
You will want to save them. You will want to take at least 20 of them home with you. Then you will realize that some kids are not meant to be saved by you. And you will cry.
You will change kids’ lives. And they will change yours. A young man will stand across the desk from you, his head down, his voice quiet, and tell you that he doesn’t think he can ever put into words the way you have changed his life. The angels will sing. Some people would go home and call that a career. But not you. You will get up and come to school the next day because that’s what you do.
All of this is true. It happened to me. And in the midst of it, I taught some English to 11th graders.
It’s such a gift, this job, but it demands your life’s blood. It’s not an “in the meantime job”. It’s a 20 hour a day, plan a year in advance, every day is a brand new challenge job.
When you’re good at it, you give your life to it. And no good teacher ever just teaches. They coach and moderate and sponsor and serve on committees and boards. They get inside as many circles of their students’ lives as possible, because good teachers know that connection is how kids succeed—when there are trustworthy adults at every turn.
You will know you are on the right track when the question of your reputation results in fierce debate between the kids who love you and the kids who hate you. Change is hard for teenagers, just like for grown ups. When you push them, they’ll push back. Stay strong. I once had a student named Jerome revise a paper 9 times to get a B and when he did, he hung that thing proudly on the fridge. And didn’t speak to me for two weeks. I was so proud of him. That’s some real learning, right there.
You will make mistakes. Tons. There’s no way to talk to 200 kids a day and not say something stupid on a fairly regular basis. When you do, just apologize. No one ever apologizes to teenagers. They will respect you forever if you own your mistakes. And they will learn from you that apologies don’t make you weak, they make you honorable.
But don’t ever let them forget that you are the queen—or king—of your classroom. Yes, the queen can be wrong. But she’s still the queen. So when they ask “Why are we doing this?” and what they mean is “Do we really have to do this?” ask them “Who am I?” By Christmas, they should know to say “You are the Queen of this classroom” and they should know that means that you are trustworthy, you are making the best decisions for them that you can, and that as a result, you will brook no lazy disagreement.
A teacher is like a farmer—we sow a lot of seeds. We don’t always get to see the fruit that grows, or the harvest because it can take years. I keep myself hidden on Facebook, but I have a few former students in my newsfeed: the doctor, the teacher, the one who works with older people, the one who joined the family business, the single mom who finished college, the single mom who is serving our country, the one who just celebrated her 10th wedding anniversary. It is so incredible to see their smiling faces as adults, their beautiful children, their dreams coming true, their determination to do the best they can.
You will have this too, if your heart is sincere. It’s about the kids. The kids will strip you down and make you see who you really are. The kids will make you better, even the ones who make you crazy first. Maybe them most of all.
Society won’t tell you that the job you do is important, but it is. You are in charge of tomorrow.
So best of luck. And in January, when you cannot for the life of you remember why you picked this stupid f*$king job, hang on. I promise that by May you will feel much better.