Some of you comic book fans might synonymously think that this might be my origin story. But no, this is a reflection back on my first year of teaching. The ups and downs, the heart aches, the stress, the people that got me through it, but most importantly the lives that I touched. No, not literally - I know what you perverts are thinking.
I met this year very stressed out from the start. I remember after day one that I was thinking to myself, "I definitely picked the wrong profession to start a career in." It all started with my first class, and probably my most difficult bunch to deal with through the whole year. When I was trying to get them into my preliminary "getting to know you" exercises, I heard many of them mutter - this is freaking gay and retarded. And these were some of my same students that I taught in the same classroom just two years ago. One of my teaching friends, "D" cornered me at the end of the day and asked me how it went. I pleaded with him what I heard and how exhausted I was and he just told me to keep my chin up and get through it one day at a time.
I really don't want to reveal any of my co-worker's names or any of those of my students'. My first thanks would go off to my girlfriend Alison. She was there for me every night to hear me complain, sob and rarely brag about how I truly made a kid's life that day. Second would have to go to my buddy "D", whom I worked with and co-taught with last year when I was a special-ed aide. I always looked up to "D", from how he taught, how he dealt with his situations and his perspective view on the world of education. "D" is one of my teaching heroes and idols and best friends. Some day, I hope I will be as great of a teacher as he is.
I'd also like to thank my mentor "B," and my family. B and the other faculty members at my school were always welcomed to give me advice or let me watch them teach. I first felt like I was a fish out of water, considering that I am only an art teacher, and they hold the more "importantly academically upheld" core classes such as Science, Math, English and S.S. But I learned to not be an outsider, like so many of the other Discovery teachers, but more of a co-worker. I co-taught lessons with my other teachers and learned how to reach a broader mind-set and combining my very vague standards with their needs so that we could over-all get higher achieving marks on our standardized tests.
Looking back I tend to think about all of the hard obstacles that I had to over come. Probably the most bothersome was the constant disrespect from the children at the school. They truly "teach" you how to have nerves of steel and that if you do not counter-act with the things that they say to you, when they are testing you, they are just going to think that you are a pussy. On countless occasions I can recall the insults of "fag," "gay," "homo," "loser," "child molester," "nerd," "dork," "queer," and probably worst of all, "you are the worst teacher ever." Some of them you really take to heart and some of them you just pretend you didn't hear one of your students mutter that under their breath.
But when you start off with nothing as a first year teacher, you develop a reputation for yourself. All students will be there to push your buttons; they examine every step that you take to see how you will react. You might think a twelve to fourteen year old child is "dumb" but they are some of the smartest and most observant kids you might know. I felt like they are constantly examining you on your every step and move and you need to be there, in there face to say "Here I am, this is what you are going to be learning today, and this is how I plan to deal with you if you plan on taking away the educational time of others."
As far as stress goes, I hinted at it before on how much my friends and loved ones help me get through it – but most people probably do not understand how stressful a teaching job is. On top of the disrespect that you get from the kids, there are quite a few parents that are unsupportive of your decisions (or impossible to reach and let them know what their child is doing in your classroom.) Then you get all of the additional requirements you have as a teacher. I can not think of one teacher in my school that "just teaches." Many of us run clubs, act as coaches, extra tutoring or home based teachers traveling to the homes of students who have been kicked out of school. I myself as a first year teacher became the Yearbook Adviser on creating my school's first Yearbook AND also creating my school's web page from the ground up. Primarily because I am G'd up from the neck up. Heh.
The Yearbook was the most taxing. Considering I had no idea on what to do or how to create it. I had a handful of students that wanted to do nothing but goof off and I had a handful that wanted to make history on creating our first book. Every week I was required to submit my lesson plans as I lived Sunday to Sunday planning on what to teach, typing it up and creating Power Points while my poor girlfriend would just sit there and watch me work away for the benefit of my own children. I remember one of my closest friends The Anarchist saying, "Y'know, you work so hard at your job, while I'm sure all other art teachers just get stoned." It made me feel good to see that my hard work and determination would pay off; I constantly strove to be the best at what I could be. Because everything that I ever did this year, I did it all for the benefit of my children.
Which leads me on to my final part of my reviewed Blog of the year, the thanks and praise that I got from my kids that made my year of teaching seem worth while. That I made a difference in quite a few lives, and touched those lives with hopefully a little bit of guidance, love and education that they could transcend onto to another level – perhaps other lives that they plan to come across in the years to come. For me, it all started when I got an email from a mother of one of my sixth graders. She let me know appreciative her son was of my classroom and just HOW much he was learning in my room. Or how another kid and his awesome parent volunteers bought me a box of chocolate for working with their child.
But I just didn't need to get a gift or an email from my kids to know from them how much they appreciated it. This comes to mind as my "holy trinity" of students in my yearbook class. I had a whole class that did help with the production and distribution of the yearbook, but the overall appearance, typing and picture layout of the book primarily goes to my holy trinity. Each one of these students got an award for all of their hard work, but I made it my duty to approach each one of them in private and thanked them SO much for the work they did in my class. I made it clear to them that there would be no yearbook without their hard work. When I saw some of them blush, get a huge smile across their face and say "thank you…it just means so much to me to hear that," I know it meant soo much to me to see that appreciativeness. The results were that we had the overall appraise of making a beautiful product. Especially living in the shadow of the yearbooks prior to me and I made it clear to everyone that praised the book – "I hardly did anything on that book – it was a ninety-eight percent student produced product."
I wanted to give just a little bit extra back to my students at the end of the year at our award's ceremony. I was told to give a few awards out to my students that showed great attitude, excellent art work, determination and helping others. Some of the kids I knew would be getting plenty of awards in their other classes. So, I became very particular about giving my awards out. I even tried to focus on kids that WOULD NOT be receiving awards from their other teachers. And I hate to even remotely think about putting down any of my children, but chances are – the majority of my students this year were not the high flying honor roll kids. I felt a lot of them were never given the chance to succeed or were praised by any of their core academic teachers. Some of those kids could truly get on your nerves, and if you don't have the patience of a saint to deal with all of their quirks and short attention spans – they will NEVER have the chance to succeed or grow in anything. And that was why I chose to praise the kids that I wanted to.
And I think it really paid off. When I had a few of them came up to me and say, "You know – I just wanted to let you know that you were my favorite teacher this year." That small little message right there just made all of the trials and tribulations that I went through seem all the worthwhile. I got a few little hugs, demands on how they can take my class next year, and could hear shouts in the hallway, "you are an awesome teacher Mr. G!" on the last day of school. The second that last school bus pulled out from the lot, I felt a little down and almost like I was going into withdrawal on not working with those kids anymore. It was a little depressing to see a few of them head on up to the high school to never be seen again, and others you only hope that they do the best that they can and not drop out (since statistics say in SC that fifty percent of my eight graders will make it to the graduation stage in high school.) But what it did leave me with was to look back at this year's worth of memories, the hard work that I accomplished and I know that I made a difference. I am part of one of the greatest and redeeming jobs on this planet because I touched over three hundred lives this year – I made a difference.