I was teaching two subjects to two middle school grade levels, and putting in 60+ hour work weeks in a portable classroom with a leaky air conditioner. Parents yelled at me for giving their children homework, administrators denied my plans to bring in guest speakers, and a student kicked a hole in my wall. I was 24 years old, and after three years of anxiety in the trenches, I wasn’t sure I could do it forever.
Last weekend I FaceTimed with one of my 1st graders for two hours. She gave me a complete tour of her house and introduced me to her abuelo and abuela. Her abuelo kept saying, “She loves you Ms. Grant. You’re all she ever talks about.” In this moment, I thought, just like I had a thousand times before, that kids like this one are the reason why I decided to do this work.
On Christmas Eve I received a text message that a dear friend of 12+ years was in the ICU in critical condition from an ongoing eleven-month battle with cancer. I met Zack in August 2002 at summer camp for children with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease; cancer was likely a result of medicine he was taking to stabilize the chronic disease we shared. With every day that passed of winter break, I sat by my phone waiting for an update on his condition. In January, Zack was taken all too soon from his family, his fiancée, his friends, and his camp family.
10,000 hours. That’s how long it takes for a job to become an expertise, but the trouble is I wanted to be an expert on day one. I walked into school ready to create the perfect classroom. My students were going to be diligent and kind, and they were sure as hell going to get the highest scores in 1st grade. I was confident and hopeful. I wrote it down—didn’t that make it destiny?
Years from now, if my students forget how to make a green screen on Final Cut Pro and the definitions in our Typography unit, or how to use specific software to edit their videos, that’s okay. Every day when I walk into the classroom, I make it my personal mission to make every student smile. Through my behavior and leadership in class, I try to promote positivity and embody an energy that brings happiness into the classroom.
Teach For America’s Poet Warriors Project strives to introduce reading and writing poetry to middle school students across the country as a way for kids to express themselves in positive ways. One class, in Connecticut, recently tackled some weighty subjects. Teacher Sam Teets introduced Poet-Warriors to his class as a part of their American Experience unit, and prompted his students to put pen to paper.
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.
There is nothing less fun than riding on a bus. It is a unifying principle of the universe that riding on a bus, even a nice bus, is unpleasant. Young or old, nerd or jock, student or teacher, riding on a bus is a fate that should be reserved for those who perpetrated a capital crime and no one else.