The first class I ever really taught graduated high school today. At the time, I was a high school senior participating in an internship program at my own high school that allowed me to observe and aide a teacher in the building. When I started that internship, I wasn’t sure if teaching was something I legitimately wanted to do with my life, or if I was considering the career simply because school was all I had ever known. That year–that class of freshman English students–taught me a lot of things, but perhaps the most important was this: I love teaching.
The tasks had started out small–checking in homework, grading simple vocab or reading checks. I discovered the special kind of comraderie that can develop when two teachers (in my case, a teacher and a one-day teacher) share stories. When I came across a student response that stated “the cure for poison” was the definition of “anecdote,” I knew it wasn’t something I could keep to myself.
More than amusing responses, though, those students allowed me to take part in their education and respected me despite the purgatory of authority I found myself in–I wasn’t a student in their class, but I wasn’t really a teacher, either. Yet they allowed me to guide them in small groups and coach them on their individual writing, which in turn showed me how much fun it was to conference with writers and see them grow. Of course, I didn’t have the vocab for it then, nor did I know any of the theories behind what we were doing in class, but they showed me that I could make a difference, and that was huge.
As we reached the third quarter, my cooperating teacher decided that it was time for me to help lead a lesson. I remember how nervous I was going into that day, but we got through it, and the whole experience gave me this energizing sort of excitement. I wouldn’t say it was a resounding success, but it was enough.
As we neared the end of that third quarter, my cooperating teacher went out on maternity leave and my own freshman year English teacher–a man who had pushed me to experiment in my writing, taught me to read Shakespeare with my mind in the gutter, and showed me the importance of having personality in the classroom–came out of retirement to sub for her. There was an interim time between quarters, though, after she left and before he was able to begin, that left us with an even more temporary sub. That was when I enjoyed the adult-like feeling of sitting in the English office, feeding tests through the scantron machine, or sitting quietly at the row of computers and entering student grades. It wasn’t the best part of the job (that would be the students), but it sure made me feel legitimate, and I felt like I belonged.
The rest of the year flew by, and I reveled in the opportunity to go through Romeo and Juliet once more. I brought in my own worn and highlighted copy and saw both the consistencies and differentiations in teaching that can happen from year to year. By the time I graduated, I had gained so much valuable experience. I had gained insight into life on the other side of the desk in terms of practical experience, yes, but I had also had my first taste of interacting with students, and that was invaluable.
It’s kind of hard to believe that they are all now graduated, poised at the end of high school like I was when I left them three years ago, but I am confident that they will continue making a difference in the lives of others. I don’t think any of them realize what an impact they had on me.