“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood,
whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.
As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks-
-we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”
During my senior year of college I worked part-time at the Boys and Girls Club in Rose Park. I remember being amazed by the children who went there. I could see a light in each and every face and I wanted with all my heart to always be able to see that.
I graduated with a double major in political science and economics and moved to Massachusetts to start working on my Ph.D. in economics. I was fascinated by the causes of poverty and I wanted to make a difference in the economic inequality of our world. Massachusetts was cold and isolating. While I made many good friends there, I felt like I was suddenly disconnected from the people I wanted to help. I felt trapped in an ivory tower. I missed the faces of the little people in Rose Park.
In June 2007 I graduated with my master’s degree and moved back to Salt Lake. In July 2007 I started teaching second grade at a high-need Title One school. It was trial by fire. I worked 60 hours a week to teach and prepare. I took classes after work to get my teaching certificate. I was sick much more than I was healthy. I had many toxic coworkers who made my daily life harder instead of helping to ease the burden. I saw firsthand countless dysfunctional situations and people. It was much, much harder than I had bargained for.
This year I have changed schools and that has made a big difference. I have also learned over the last few years to take excellent care of myself, to set boundaries, and to have relaxation at the forefront of everything I do. I still question my sanity on a daily basis (and the sanity of those I interact with). The following is a snapshot of what it is to teach elementary school in Utah.
- We have a spontaneous vote on our favorite Ninja Turtle. When I forget Raphael’s weapon, one boy becomes adorably animated, jumps out of his chair and acts it out. I laugh out loud. (It is a sai in case you also forgot).
- The kid with strep throat (who came to school anyway) won’t stop sucking on his fingers and touching things.
- “What great things will you do with your life” is a daily topic of conversation. We delight in discovering our talents and cultivating big dreams for ourselves. We are already thinking about what we will be when we grow up.
- I ring a bell to get the children’s attention. Then I say “raise your hand if you can hear me.” No one raises their hand. One kid is crawling on the floor, another is barking like a dog.
- I enjoy the friendships of many children and their parents. One brings me a latte on a hard day. I witness the great love with which these parents raise their kids.
- I am exhausted taking care of a generation of kids being raise by television and Nintendo. If one more person has a child they won’t take care of, I might scream.
- I draw strength and inspiration from my colleagues. They listen when I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They bring chocolate and flowers. They become part of my inner circle as our friendship extends beyond the bounds of our job.
- I literally cannot get through three words without being interrupted. I begin to look forward to death.
- Children live in a world of possibility and imagination. Every day at 11:11 we make a wish. I buy a bottle of glitter in December. I tell them it is fairy dust from the North Pole. They believe me.
- After buying every child a folder for homework, copying homework, passing it out, explaining it in detail, and modeling how to pack it in my backpack, I see three folders left on the hallway floor after school.
- I thrive in a classroom where positivity is the norm. Everyday kids congratulate each other. We say things like “awesome job!” and “today is a great day!” Even little things like rain or a good book are causes for celebration and awe.
- I feel invisible except for when I need the children to work. Then they come to me to blow their nose, tie their shoes, listen to their stories, look at their paper cuts, and hug them. This happens no less than thirty times a day.
- I see and facilitate amazing learning with reading, writing, and math. I am amazed by the problem solving and creative thinking abilities of my students. They grow and progress so much in such a short amount of time.
- I attend mind-numbing, soul-crushing meetings before or after a busy workday. These are often put on by people who don’t actually teach kids. They try to dissect the process of teaching and learning into as many pieces as possible. They make the little things a priority and throw out the important things. I always leave the meetings feeling devalued and overwhelmed
- We have a practice in my classroom of seeing each other with silent respect. I look every child in the eyes every day, often multiple times. Sometimes I have my students sit silently with a partner, just looking at each other for thirty seconds. We love being seen. We love having spotlights and really getting to know each other. We become a tight knit community by the end of the year.
- My schedule, my pay, and my requirements are outside of my control. Five years into teaching they did away with the year-round schedule (which I loved). School started an hour earlier than it used to. One year they cut 5 days from my contract (and the pay that went with it). Another year they added 8 days (and took away a week of summer vacation). Sometimes I feel like I am drowning under the weight of a chaotic society that values having children but does not value raising them once they are here. I feel invisible as a person.
- And, just today, two little girls came in from lunch with blossoms in their hands. “Here, Teacher. We picked these for you. We love you. Thank you for teaching us.” And, as simple as that, I can keep going.