Yesterday was a particularly hard day at work, and I am still feeling utterly drained, quite possibly due to the final exams that are underway. For a while now, I’ve just been coming home and immediately crashing, day in, day out. I feel the oddest combinations of simultaneous exhaustion and restlessness. It’s not to say that I don’t experience some rewarding moments at the school (see Exhibit A) or enjoy myself at work on occasion. My coworkers and principal are all pretty cool, decent people. I work in a very well-to-do international school; no complaints in that regard. So what gives?
Moments like these call for some reflection, they require some time for me to sit down and think for a bit on how and why I got myself into this situation to start with.
To begin with, I suppose that a part of the appeal for me is that I have the opportunity to work with those students in whom I can identify my former 12 year old self: Super awkward, bookwormish, vulnerable. Similar to the decade of my twenties, junior high/middle school was a period of self- discovery and trial and error. They were paradoxically painful and enlightening years, incredibly and indelibly formative. Taking a page from the book of Charles Dickens, simply put, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Junior high for me was also impacted deeply by my teachers (another reason why I take my position so seriously). In sixth grade I had “Mrs. B,” a highly strung, prematurely middle aged “teacher” who had absolutely no control over the anarchical class that had resulted from her piss poor classroom management skills. Her incompetence was unbelievable, her sensitivity was that of a toilet seat. When I came to her in tears one day, explaining that boys were calling me fat and sexually harassing me by leaving crude notes in my locker and drawing vaginas on my desk, Mrs. B’s only course of action was to reassure me, “When a boy teases you, it’s because he likes you.” It’s no coincidence that sixth grade was the dawn of my eating disorder and the year I started writing suicidal poetry.
Two years later, in eighth grade, I found a sanctuary and place of academic and personal growth in Mr. A’s algebra class. Mr. A was a tall but soft spoken man with thick glasses. Despite my initial lack of intrinsic interest in numbers and equations, he turned a dry subject into a genuinely enjoyable fifty-five minute daily environment where it was cool to be smart and know the right answers. We sang off-key math songs that he had written while he strummed on his guitar (the one that sticks out the most in my mind is the “Opposite of the Integer of the Coefficient of the Variable Blues”). He taught us clever math tricks such as how to multiply any two numbers between 11 and 19 on our fingers, without using a calculator or pencil and paper (which I can still do to this day). Most of all, he was an attentive educator who encouraged me to challenge myself more and to have higher expectations for myself. In my eighth grade yearbook, which is now long gone, I can still recall that he wrote, “You are a super-special kid. Stay you.”
Fast forward almost two decades later, and now I’m the one in the trenches, calling the shots (in theory), giving the grades, planning the lessons, and spending hours in the classroom again, only this time, I’m on the opposite end of the teacher’s desk. Overall, for as long as my teaching career lasts (hopefully a long time), I hope to emulate Mr. A, be the antithesis of Mrs. B, and finally find my own niche and groove in the teaching world. As a relatively new teacher, there is still a major learning curve that I am trying to get the hang of. My students make me want to scream, hug them, rejoice in their personal victories, cry, question my sanity, question myself, inspire them, throw up, and laugh, all in just about equal parts, sometimes at the same time.
Often times when my mind wanders, it wonders what I might have become if I hadn’t decided to go into the field of education. Despite my pretty ample imagination, I honestly can’t conceive of doing anything else with my life. For better or for worse, I feel that this is what I was meant to do. In my eyes, teaching is by far one of the noblest professions that exist. You motivate, you influence, you inspire, and you also take a lot of sh*t in the process. In any case, it’s not to be taken lightly.
I have not had many moments when I could genuinely say from the heart that I felt good enough or good about myself. But despite my insecurities, despite my concerns, and despite the demands of the job, I am proud of myself for what I choose to do. I am proud to be a middle school teacher. There’s no other job like it.