So the end of my fourth semester is nearing, yesterday was my last teaching day. The rest of this semester will be spent in portfolio conferences with my students. The end of the semester is always so bittersweet. You are always so ready to be done teaching, you know they learned what they needed to learn and the ones that didn’t usually know too. But you hate saying good bye.
Just the other day I was trying to picture my very first class and remember their names. I could envision their faces sitting there in that classroom and the nerves I had heaped up. I was so eager to change the world to make a difference and give them just an ounce of the love that my past instructors had given me. They each brought a unique experience to my classroom.
For four months our floor to ceiling windows covered usually in sunlight and brightness. That brightness I always took as confirmation I was in the right place at the right time. Even in the coldest temps of December we sat there basking in the sun watching snow fly.
But their names are diminishing. Their faces blurry. The memories are always there and the circumstances that brought us together fresh in my mind still. But the stuff I always thought I would remember fleeting. Not all that different than parenting. I don’t remember each moment near as vividly as I once thought I would.
I remember the student who was incredibly good at ballet. I remember his papers so eloquent and really above par for the level in which he was in for my class. But he lacked something, a maturity and understanding of the real world. That was changed by the father of four girls who had done three tours in Iraq and one Afghanistan. His paper about his military life that turned into a class presentation made each of us uncomfortably moved to understand life in a different way. He changed my ballet dancer. Enough that I know the two of them remain the most unlikely friends.
Or the student who admitted she had PICA (disorder where you eat odd things that you aren’t supposed to eat) to another student and I watched as this amazing friendship built and her get help for this with that friend. I saw them just a few weeks ago walking together. We all smiled and waved. I tried to recall names and I just couldn’t. But I didn’t forget their faces or the memories of that sunny classroom that we shared.
And my 24 year old gruff and hard to get to know student who started my first class teaching ever in the most awkward and ridiculous way announcing that he was, “Morally opposed to writing and speaking in class and sharing it with myself or his peers”. I remember my jaw dropping in fear of how to handle such a request given the very nature of my class is writing and peer work. He challenged all the stereotypes and assumptions I brought into that classroom with me. His long hair, his body clearly smelling of smoke and maybe some pot. Totally covered in tattoos and piercings. His dress. I had to try and set that aside and face the very most human parts of myself that I bring into a classroom. I asked my class to do a two minute presentation on their narratives. He got up with a guitar and he sang with just his guitar. When he was done the class all realized we had just witnessed greatness and we didn’t want it to stop.
Two weeks later this same man stayed after class and was visibly not himself and he shared that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the brain. As in he will die. He said his doctor told him it was not likely he would live through the year. Seeing this man cry in front of me and tell me that it didn’t matter if he passed my class or not but that he wanted to stay changed me. He went from being what I likely would have labeled my pain in the ass student to probably my most favorite that semester. There was something freeing about his cancer that changed the way he wrote. He didn’t live through the whole year. Eventually his facebook grew quiet, but I remember the lesson he taught me. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
And there are so many more stories I can share from that class and people lives who touched mine that semester. Clearly, I let myself get too emotionally involved. But I cannot figure out how you cannot. One thing I have found that often as a writing instructor your students share some of their most “private” thoughts with you. With time and experience I have become better at not wanting to solve every little missed step and really just listening. I really think that is all they want.
Over the last 2 years I have taught 154 students freshman composition. I have loved every single moment even the hard ones. I have felt and watched my students changes along with myself. I am proud of the work we do together. Next fall, I am tackling a different kind of classroom. I am eager and ready for the change and the chance to do it. I am ever grateful for the student that walks in that first day and accepts me readily for what I can bring to the classroom and to their learning. But I am even more grateful that I have the opportunity to do this at all. I am a teacher.