The new school year is just around the corner. I have already started planning the first few lessons for what will be my thirteenth opening to the school year. The butterflies and the excitement are still there and, at times, I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. My upcoming students, whom I haven’t met but already love, will (hopefully) only experience my class once. As a high school English teacher, I work with over a hundred students a day, and by the end of the school year I want them to be more proficient at reading, writing, technology, communication, and discerning reliable information over the unfounded so that they can be productive citizens when they graduate. They will cross the finish line at different paces and, in fact, that finish line might look different for each of them because they will all begin in different spots. Over a hundred different starting points and equally as many finishing lines. Most importantly, at the end of the school year I want them to know that they grew as learners and as human beings.In essence, my goal is to help my students set and accomplish their own goals. Very, very few of them will have the goal of becoming a high school English teacher--a noble profession if I say so myself. The trick, then, comes in taking a poem, short story, or play that may have been written decades or even centuries ago, and making it relevant to their lives. That way, they are one step closer to getting where they want to be.
With the endless, 24-hour news media cycle often times perpetuating hate, I do have one other motive that I hope to accomplish with my students this year--teaching them empathy. The group of students getting ready to walk into my classroom were born in the year 2000 or later. They are digital natives who have been raised in an era of smartphones and advanced video game systems. They are also the victims of a school accountability movement ushered in by No Child Left Behind (which was very recently replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act), meaning they have been bombarded by an incessant stream of worksheets and multiple-choice questions while often times being denied recess. All of these variables, and more, have contributed to students who often times lack the ability to relate to one another and to society.
There are many things that I can’t control as a teacher. I can’t control the students’ home lives, which varies widely in this county between the haves and have-nots. I can’t control my school’s schedule, which state test my students will take, or their physical and emotional well-beings on a day to day basis. We all have rough days, including myself; however, when the teacher has an off day, then a day of valuable instruction may be lost. One thing I can certainly control is myself. I hope to approach every class period, every day, with enthusiasm both for the content that they are about to learn and for the learners themselves. After all, students need me in their corner, cheering them on.
For me, teaching is not just a job, or even a career. It’s an opportunity to touch people’s lives and to be a strong building block in the foundation of our society. John Dewey once said that “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Teaching is my passion, and my classroom is my sanctuary. It’s where thought-provoking, life-changing lessons happen.
The upcoming school year understandably brings with it a tidal wave of anxiety. Even the best laid plans of mice and men go astray, which for me adds to the adrenaline and excitement of going to work each day. I can’t wait to see how this school year unfolds. Being the English teacher geek that I am, in uncertain times like this, I like to think of Tennyson’s heralded poem, “Ulysses,” in which he wrote “I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro' gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.” My life experiences, as well as that of my students, have prepared us for this moment--this journey of learning together and pushing the boundaries of each other’s knowledge. Let’s. Get. Started.