“It must be so exciting everyday for you!”
“You have a gift for teaching!”
“I can tell it’s so much fun when I hear your stories!”
“Teaching is one of the easiest jobs you’ll come across!”
Let me rewind a bit here.
I remember approaching the short brick building with its green and white sign. I was so nervous. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, my wrists, my neck, and in my throat. I felt confident after my video call interview a few weeks prior, but now that I was standing in front of the building as “a strong candidate,” I was all nerves… and sweat. Boy, was it hot that day.
Apparently the in-person interview went well because after about 20-25 minutes, I was offered the job!
Now, imagine a freshly graduated theology graduate, who had no real experience in teaching, getting a job as an elementary school teacher TWO WEEKS BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED. Those of you who are teachers may or may not be chuckling right now at the chaos that you expect to ensue. Well, let’s just say I was innocent and totally ignorant of what teaching truly entailed.
Here are 4 things I learned in my first year as an elementary school teacher:
The storytelling can go on for hours, if you let them.
The thing about most adults is that they tend to have some sort of idea about when their story should end. The thing about kids, though, is that they have no idea when to stop… or why you’ve just asked them to go back to their desk and finish their math worksheet in the middle of their 15 minute story. Also, they may come back to your desk multiple times in a span of 5 minutes and tell you 20 different mini stories.
No one is safe from bathroom stories.
It was a bright and beautiful day, and I had some great lessons planned that I was excited to get started on. One by one, the kids filed in and settled down to their morning tasks. A few minutes go by after the first batch of kids walk in when, suddenly, I catch a little curly-haired fellow bounce through the door and head straight towards me. I was focused on setting up a lesson on my computer when he hopped over to me and immediately blurted out, “Guess what! I couldn’t go to the bathroom last night! I tried this morning, and it was really bad. It was a weird color. You should’ve seen it. Yeah. It was, like, bad.”
*shudders at the thought of his own struggles that morning*
I could have done without that story this morning, kid, but I love that you can be open with me.
Emotional breakdowns are real — for you and them.
For the first few months, adjustment was a huge challenge. For all of us.
Most of these kids were perfectionists. Many grew quickly frustrated when they couldn’t grasp concepts immediately or would break down when I didn’t choose them to answer a question. It took a great deal of patience and regular conversations before we all reached a point where we understood one another. Of course, being human, we still had our moments.
My biggest challenges, though, fell outside of the classroom. My kids were, overall, amazing! They truly brought so much joy into my life, and I couldn’t bear being away from them for more than a day.
The real exertion went towards trying to impress EVERYONE. Let me tell you… that never ends well. I was trying to do everything to make sure that administrators, parents, and other teachers were completely happy while forgetting myself in the process. It wasn’t until the second half of the year, when I had an emotional breakdown from all of the pressure, that I realized that I needed to stop and breathe. I didn’t understand what taking care of your mental health meant until that moment. I spent many days feeling exhausted, weak, angry, and on the verge of tears at a moment’s notice.
I sought out some much needed help, and I’ll just say that I came out of that time feeling more determined to prioritize my needs. And it’s funny because what I once thought would make people angry and upset (i.e. taking a firm stance on prudent decisions I made as an educator) actually helped me earn more respect! I can’t say it was easy, by any means, but it was truly a liberating feeling.
Nothing compares to a child’s love
I know I didn’t give birth to them, see their first steps, or hear their first words, but they were my kids. I saw many teeth fall out, hundreds of scraped knees, the excitement of having won “Student of the Week”, the giggling while playing “What Do You Have For Lunch Today”, and the never-ending roaring of laughter over something as silly as telling them that their drawing of a cat looked like Pikachu wearing a tomato costume.
During my last week of school, I fell seriously sick and could barely make it out of bed without falling over. I knew I couldn’t risk getting my kids sick, but I also knew that I would forever regret missing their last week of 2nd grade. I did everything in my power to get better, and so, on the last day of school, I trudged in during the last 15 minutes of the day to say goodbye. I was met by an avalanche of open arms which I quickly (and sadly) dodged to avoid the spread of my ridiculously timed cold. They all ran to show me their awards and stickers and tell me all about the snacks they ate. Some of them decided to spend their last minutes standing by me until the bell rang just to update me on the events of the past few days. I fist-bumped each of them as they filed out of the classroom at the sound of the bell, trying to take in every moment.
Now that I think back to those 10 months, I’m in awe. I don’t know what I did to deserve these kids. Every one of their comments and questions, as random and mildly intrusive as they could be, came from a place of genuine interest and concern. I had never come across a group of humans more interested in what I had to say until this past year. I could tell them stories about slugs and traveling through Europe and how a bean grows numerous times, and they still listened.
Here’s the thing, though. We had our tough times too. But even in the midst of those not-so-great days, many of them would not walk out the door without giving me a hug or telling me how happy they were that I was their teacher.
That’s the strange thing about kids.
Even on those days when I felt like I could’ve done better, my kids made sure that I knew they appreciated and loved me — through drawings, notes, cards, you name it! They taught me how to love without conditions, forgive without expectations, and grow from the mistakes.
I’ll never forget the 28 kids who became my best teachers.