I always remember the day that we talked about gay marriage in class. It was ninth grade, and I was deeply in the closet and in the throes of self-hate. When my teacher brought it up, I felt every beat of my heart and slumped down in my chair so I didn’t seem “too interested” in the discussion. Yet hearing my teacher and my classmates discuss LGBTQ rights, not as a bad thing, but because it was important to discuss, was incredible.
Recently, a new acquaintance asked me, “You’re an elementary school teacher, right?” Shockingly, my immediate reaction was to say, “No, I’m not.”
This is absurd for many reasons. The first and most obvious is that I am, in fact, an elementary school teacher. But for me, the title evokes an image of a middle-aged woman in mom jeans and tennis shoes, teaching songs and art to a small group of children for a few hours each day.
Joining Teach For America meant a lot for me. I wanted to change the lives of children, hopefully in a city I loved, but I also joined for me. As a single parent, I know I have to work extra hard to be the best example for my son, Isaiah. From my training at Institute through the last day of school, I have learned more about Isaiah, my students, and myself.
Last month, during testing season, stress levels are at an all-time high—for my 8th graders and their teacher. So when a student stopped doing his homework, I stopped letting him into my classroom. He sat on the floor in the hallway and moped, while I circulated with the other 24 students in my classroom and let my emotions stew. And then we both went home angry.
My principal recently told me that I am well ahead of the first-year teacher learning curve. This is a compliment that all first-year teachers pray, wish, and hope to hear. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anything but thrilled. My administration thinks my 4th grade classroom always seems to “have it together.” I majored in education before getting my masters from the Teachers College at Columbia University. I should “have it together.”
The problem is: I don’t.
Sometimes I think that my kids deserve a better teacher. I feel this way especially after a giant behavioral meltdown, an assessment that shows little to no growth, or an administrator evaluation that didn’t go as smoothly as planned. At these points in time, I feel like a lousy educator, and I can’t imagine ever being a good one.
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.