As I wind up my first semester of teaching in rural Arkansas, I finally have the chance to step back and examine my life for the past five months. Since relocating from the northeast (where I was born, raised, and attended college), settling in down south has been a challenge, but one for which I am very grateful. This semester has been full of firsts for me, and I have learned from each one.
- This is the first time I have ever lived somewhere other than my comfort zone.
- …the first time I have ever been a teacher.
- …the first time I’ve ever been homesick.
- …the first time I have ever uprooted my life for a job I care so much about.
- …the first time I’ve been out of college and trying to navigate my way through the swamp that is post-grad life.
With each personal conversation I’ve had with a student, I have created a lasting connection. Those moments have not only deepened my perspective on this profession and the impact it can have, but also have made me realize that teaching is one of those jobs that is just bigger than myself. I am humbled by that realization every day I step into my classroom.
It is through the individual and memorable connections with my students that the stressors of classroom management, grading, standardized testing, and homesickness seem insignificant. The relationships I have built with my students have made all those “firsts” unforgettable, and I have learned enormous life lessons from every single one.
Teaching is hard. Keeping up with grading 100 students assignments can be tedious and overwhelming. Missing your family during the holiday season when you’re so far from home can weigh on you. But, it’s moments like when a student goes out of her way to come into my room to just chat or when one invites me to a basketball game and reminds me of it every period, that I remember why I’m here and why I decided to be a part of Teach for America. I’m here because together my students have had a positive and empowering impact on my life and I’ve had one on theirs.
Since the end of the semester is coming to an end, I’ve been asking students to truthfully reflect on my teaching so I can continue to grow and get better. A few of my students wrote:
“Ms. M, you should keep connecting with the kids and be happy like you always do. Keep being yourself and tell us stories like you told us.”
“Ms. M, I like that you’re super pumped up about teaching and if I’m confused I know I can ask you for help.”
“Ms. M, something you should keep doing as a teacher is relating to your students. You’re really good at that.”
After reading each response, I took a step back from all my worries of being a new teacher, the mistakes I’ve made along the way, and the areas I need to improve, and recognized the small things I do on a daily basis that have brought positivity and happiness to my students’ lives—even if just for a brief moment.
Thank you, first semester of teaching, for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined and making me a better person because of it.