Teachers spend years watching students grow and, hopefully, learn. For a dedicated teacher, it is a journey of discovery and revelation. Teaching is my passion, and I have never regretted the days spent in the classroom.
Much to my profound surprise and dismay, my contract is not being renewed at the high school where I have taught for twenty years.
But I don’t want to focus on their…decision.
Rather, I want to share what my students have taught me. Some of the lessons were funny, some were difficult, and some were life-changing.
Teen culture changes quickly, and teachers who don’t keep up are left wondering what’s going on. Fads, slang words, fashion, music – it’s all important to students. Minimizing their interests to trivialities means missing out on a key part of their lives. Let’s be honest. I don’t want to listen to hours of rap or hip hop; however, I occasionally allow students to use this art form in poetry classes to show how words ebb and flow in different ways. To my surprise, some rappers have amazing things to say. Stepping into the world of my students for a brief moment is inspiring and keeps me young.
Perhaps the most significant lesson for me was learning to listen. While it sounds simple, it isn’t. Teens want to know their voice is heard and their viewpoint is valuable. Part of helping them develop strong opinions is listening to their perception of the world. I'm astounded at how simply and accurately most young adults view this complicated society. Teens are great B.S. detectors, even as they sometimes spout it themselves. When a student takes an assignment on homelessness and transforms it into a cause/effect essay with detailed solutions to the problem, I am in awe. When a student takes the time to carve a replica of Chateau d’If (the prison in Count of Monte Cristo) from solid wood, I am transported to a place of admiration and wonder.
Of course, there are humorous moments, like science projects that get in the way of my teaching. I mention this one in my recently published novel Midnight Diamonds. And then there’s the student who said he was late because his mom hadn’t dried his favorite jeans. I love hearing my students laugh at the guttural growls of Boris Karloff in the 1931 movie classic Frankenstein, or how they applaud the football captain for his creation on Snowflake Day (yes, I created a day for my high school students to make paper snowflakes and celebrate winter).
There are also days when it’s time to be quiet and sensitive to each other. We’ve had a few days like that recently…and I am humbled by my students’ outpouring of love and prayerful support. Nothing is more moving than to have a large group of students ask if they can pray for me.
Teachers should laugh with their students…cry with them…make the journey alongside them while gently guiding them. Most of all, teachers should learn from the ones they’re teaching. I am blessed to have grown by leaps and bounds with some of the most amazing young people in this world.
So, to all my students, past and present - thank you for allowing me to walk beside you on this unpredictable path called life and for providing signposts along the way.