"You have 135 minutes left on this test. Are there any questions?"
After a quick pause, I said, "You may begin."
As the students got to work on this section of the test, I began to reflect on my life as a teacher, and came to realize that, yes, I was born to be in a classroom, teaching.
The set of students in front of me, a gathering of opted-out English Language Learners from different classes including mine, had different experiences coming into that exam, yet already had an engrained respect for me before I even said my first words of the day. They might have seen me pass by in the hallway, covering a class, or heard rumors about me from different kids. They knew I didn't laugh, at least not in front of them. They knew I cracked some jokes and rarely wrote up students, preferring to talk them out of their unwise decisions.
They heard I love teaching students, and they can see it in my eyes.
A few years ago, I didn't know how my body language (or my actual language) manifested in them thinking I hated my job, or at least that I should hate it. They confided in me that teachers in these environments work less like gurus, and more like prison guards. They tell me that they couldn't work "with these stupid kids" who "never want to do anything," so becoming a teacher would be too hard for them. They don’t like the lack of respect teachers get generally, and wonder why someone like me actually wanted to teach, and not do anything else.
America as a whole has similar beliefs.
Yet, after reading Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, I realized just how close I am to reaching this "Personal Legend." The students I reach in the classroom—I'm happy I reach the majority of them—have an appreciation for math now, and I hope I had a positive effect on that sentiment. The ones I don't aren't the "bad" kids, or the "most troubled" kids. It's the kids who simply aren't ready for me, or maybe not anyone, right now. I've learned that great teachers have plenty of students who simply weren't ready to learn from them. Maybe I'm not ready to teach them, either, and I still have lots to learn about teaching them.
Learning isn't linear, and neither are our lives.
In some meetings, we get the privilege to debrief with our colleagues with varying degrees of frustration, of pain, or annoyance. At the kids. At their superiors. At the system as a whole. This source of frustration, although warranted, can also cloud us from our objective. As I've heard a few of my colleagues say time and again, we don't teach our subjects; we teach our students these subjects.
In time, if we let that little bubble of frustration grow, we get blinded, strayed from what we originally came to do. We see teaching as just a job, and not as both profession and passion. We see children as cogs to fit into a framework and not as people we're giving tools to build. Some people are okay with that, and they'll have their vision for what teaching should be, too. I just can't allow that.
Maybe the kids respect me because I walk in like I was born to do this shit, and I want to take them along with me.
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A version of this post originally appeared at The Jose Vilson