It’s the time of the year that we all look forward to the end of the school year. Teachers finally get the opportunity to sit down while enjoying their lunch, use the restroom without a bell schedule, reclaim some free time in the evenings, and truly, honestly, relax.
This is the time of year for celebrations, closings of chapters, and renewal. A few days ago when grades were due, reports were to be finalized, and parents were still checking in to make sure “Johnnie” would graduate, this day didn’t seem possible to most teachers. Yet, now, all of a sudden, in the calmness that surrounds us, we realize again just how worthwhile and rewarding our career really can be.
I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of academic settings with students from pre-school to 12th grade. And whether you’ve been teaching for ten days or ten years, you can already name some challenging days and difficult students.
In my most recent position as a high school English and Special Education teacher, I was the teacher who was frequently called upon when new students were entering the district, a student was entering resource room level English, or the student was coming from a less-than-ideal situation.
whether you’ve been teaching for ten days or ten years, you can already name some challenging days and difficult students Click To Tweet
It always started with the phone ringing at the most random time: the beginning of my lunch break or as soon as one class left for the next period. You’d start to get the tingly, shutter feeling of “Oh, no. What’s this? Who’s hurt? Who’s decided to make a break for it?” Warily answering the phone one winter day, I was told that a new student had come to the district from a few neighboring towns over. He didn’t like anything about school, was already planning to join his family’s cleaning business, and had full support to ignore the requirements or benefits of traditional schooling from his family.
“Could you come down to the library to meet him? Maybe talk a little bit about your class and the school? Try to give him a sense of welcoming and belonging, I was asked – no, TOLD – by the voice on the other end of the line. Already staring at my lunch and knowing that it wouldn’t go down well now anyway, I responded, “I’ll be right down.”
Walking into the library to meet with the librarian (who was also asked to meet with this student) and the new student, I was faced with that all too familiar, blank stare. The gaze he emanated could seemingly power through steel buildings. After trying to have an easy-going conversation with the student who wouldn’t mutter more than two words, and the librarian, I left saying to the student that I looked forward to seeing him in class the next day, while at the same time knowing that I was going to have to move mountains to make this a successful experience for this particular student, but also to not disrupt the current energy my class already had going.
Fast forward two devastatingly long weeks, where the student attempted cutting my class, refusing to speak to me, and pushing anything off his desk that I placed on it, he literally turned himself around. From facing his desk out the window, to now facing the front of the room, allowing a two-way conversation between him and I, and embracing the fact that while yes, I was going to continue to challenge him, I was not going to give up on him, we both started to see the possibilities.
Why the Story Matters
Here, my fellow educator friends, I’m sure is one of many common themes between us: we learned how to teach students, but at the end of the day, we are more concerned about our students as a whole much more so than a letter grade in our course, right? How many of us don’t only know the back stories of our students, but fight to make sure that each student’s back story is a positive one?
We all know students whom may only have one (or no) parents at home, who fight to eat regularly, who are constantly looking for help to complete an assignment because his parents truly aren’t able to help, or who can’t worry about completing assignments until she can truly feel safe and taken care of in her home. These are the stories that I always sought out because a student who doesn’t have his primary needs met outside of school can never begin to achieve inside your classroom.
And while these stories are always sad, these are the exact stories which help to reignite my tired, tattered teacher talent for another day, another, month, another year.
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