The Importance of Being Earnest

One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my career is the importance of being earnest. Being earnest includes passion for my craft, love for my students, and patience in ALL things.

Being earnest is difficult.

Under my belt sits one and a half years of teaching. That’s three semesters of whining, crying, punch-dancing, and door slamming. And then there’s my students’ behavior! I would be lying if I said I haven’t wanted to quit — at least 8 times in the last 6 months. HOWEVER, I have not yielded. I have not given up. I have remained in musty room 8 with the crappy ProBoard, the stained carpet, and the mismatched desks.

My, how that sounds so dire, so hopeless. But I will be the first to say: all is not lost. As the semesters have passed, the breaks seem to get shorter and the kids seem to pay less attention and sometimes… on my darkest days… the fire that started my teaching career seems to fizzle and burn out. I experienced this at the end of my first semester, over a year ago. I had some very ornery boys in one class, I’d lost complete control in my last hour, I had messed up the grading, I had a long list of to-don’ts. I left for Christmas break in a proverbial fetal position, ready for a BREAK from the chaos that had become my life.

What I experienced over that break was overwhelming. I slept. I didn’t grade anything. I wasn’t talking for hours on end. I wasn’t having to send kids to the office. I had a break. A real life break. It turns out that the fire did not burn out, it had only dimmed. What God did to my fire over break was kindle it and make it burn a smidge brighter. I headed into the second semester with fresh eyes and a vigor for the subject, which I had never felt before. I had new students and a new heart. I would be lying if I said there weren’t struggles — because there were. But I had a heart for what I was doing; I loved it. And so things got better.

Fast forward through an amazing and much needed summer to the beginning of the 2013 Fall Semester. I was ready and willing and had a new teacher on my team. Within the first two weeks, I got too comfortable and I let a lot slide. My pacing was off. I was sick of the EOI prep. I was upset at the legislation put in place by people who didn’t know my struggle. I was upset with kids who didn’t give a flying fart in space about their grades. I was upset because parents wouldn’t support me in my decisions I made and the natural consequences that had descended upon their children. I was so ready for Christmas Break that I could feel it the MOMENT the first bell rung after Thanksgiving Break.

I desperately searched for the rest and peace that I’d felt last Christmas break, that peace that helped me ease into the second semester.

Empty. Dry. Nothing.

Monday came around and with it came a slew of problems: kids who wouldn’t work, a new mandate for teacher evaluation, an impending head-cold, the list went on. I sprinted through the day prepping for two new classes, making to-do lists the length of the Nile, running around to print my grade verification sheets… As the day closed, three things happened:

1. I realized just how much my administration cares about education and about me as a teacher. Thus, I felt appreciated and a little hopeful.

2. 90% of my kids passed their EOI and over 95% had a C or better (most with A’s or B’s). They’d earned those grades.

3. I love what I do.

At the end of the day, after teaching sentence structure and starting fresh with new students, I remembered that I’m here for a reason: I love teaching literature and writing. My philosophy is that my discipline is crucial to civilization. Literature, what is written and then read, connects us to each other. Writing, which is used for expression, also connects us to each other. The skills I teach in this class are so important in “real life.” Fifty percent of the grade is essentially following instructions, the other 50% is basically just learning how to interpret the world around us and then explain it to each other.

I have quite a few kids this semester that I know are struggling. But I will diligent and forward and we will succeed.

The importance of being earnest is that we can’t succeed without it. Not even a little bit.



Young Teacher Problems

In one more day, they’ll be here. All of their bright and sunburnt faces will be staring back at mine. They don’t know it, but they’re gonna DO WORK.

Last night was Open House. At Bethel, this happens the Monday or Tuesday night before school starts and it is used as a way for freshmen to come into school and figure out their classrooms and meet their teachers. It’s precious to see their scared faces, fully knowing that a much older version of that face was mine last year at this time. This year’s open house was a lot different from last year in that I already know most of my students. They’re the 10th grade versions of my first class, Bethel Middle School 8th graders. I’m both elated and terrified at having them back in my class. A few of those reasons are that I know them and their temperaments and my class is nothing like Mrs. Holt’s class. In fact, mixed in with learning and reading and writing, we have a lot of fun. We laugh most of the time. I had one of last semester’s students come in and tell a new sophomore, “It’s a blast, seriously the most fun class ever.” I hope she learned something, too, but I’m glad she also had fun. Another one of my “favorites” came in and told me that she’d miss my class because she went home every day with a stomach ache from laughing. I asked her what she was laughing at and she said me. I don’t know whether to be flattered or concerned by that last comment… but I’ll take it.

One of the biggest deals about Open House is that I get to meet parents. I like to talk to them and it’s so encouraging to hear them say things like, “I’ll put down my cell phone and I’m serious: do not hesitate to call any time. I back you up 100%.” *FIST PUMP* Those are my favorite parents. I hope to never need to call them, but I like knowing they support me. A problem with meeting parents, though, is that I don’t know how many times I get the once over and then this question, “So, you’ve graduated? Very recently?” Or, “You’re so young! You look like you’re still in high school!” Yes, I see myself in the mirror every day. I know that I look young. I took it in stride last year, because I was a newb and for all intents and purposes: I did look super super young. But I literally have wrinkles and gray hairs, and I dress so much more professionally. One freshman walked in and said, “Oh, I thought you were just some random 16 year old who was sitting in here. There’s no way you’re actually a teacher…?!” I just smiled and shook my head.

I’m reminded of 1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth.” I know that no one is despising me, but I hate that that’s the first thing they notice. I have a piece of paper that says I’m qualified, it’s real fancy. I have great test scores that prove that I know what I’m doing and that my students learn in my classroom. I have the most ridiculously organized lesson plans and units. I come prepared. Yes, I look like a baby and maybe I giggle a lot. I also may say whatevs more than necessary, but I’m a good teacher. I am young but I am fierce.

I struggled with that all night, as parents skeptically looked at me and shook my hand. I knew some of them and they know who I am, that I’m capable of doing right by their kids. I was a little at my wits end as far as parents and students looking at me funny when one mother, whose son is one of my favorite kids with special needs, looked me in the eye and said, “You are so young. But you know what, teaching is for the young. I’m glad you’re here.”

Just as I didn’t like being the bottom of the heap in high school and college, I don’t like people thinking I’m too young for the job. I love my career and my students and what I get to teach. I am not wishing to look old and curmudgeonly (which I know will happen soon enough!). I just want people to know that I’m young but completely capable, dare I say it, completely successful at what I do.