Saturday, September 5, 2009

Exhausted and Lovin' It!

It's funny - before I started in my new career as a teacher in the USA, I was really nervous. Terrified, actually. My head was swimming with worries: What if the kids are monsters? What if the other teachers don't like me? What if I turn out to be a lousy teacher and the kids hate me - or worse - what if they start hating history or English because of me. It didn't help that so many relatives were "helpfully" chirping "You don't know what you're getting into - those kids are going to drive you crazy," and other such expressions of goodwill. As the days and nights ticked away over the summer, I kept wondering "What am I getting myself into? Am I really cut out for this?"

Then that fateful first day of school rolled around. I got less than three hours of anxious sleep the night before, tossing and turning with constant new worries and fears popping into my mind. By the time the alarm clock announced the morning, I was a pitiful nervous wreck, thoroughly convinced that I had no business entering the classroom. It's amazing how careless comments from others, mixed with an over-active imagination, can so completely overwhelm a person.

When I walked in that morning, my knees were shaking. The first class, my eight seventh graders, invaded my quiet classroom and I found myself in "do-or-die" mode. Then, a very strange, unexpected thing happened: I found my niche. Peace washed over me. Standing in front of those kids, teaching them, felt as natural as taking a bath, or brushing my teeth. There were no more nerves, and I was shocked to find myself sitting alone in my room, after what felt like only mere minutes, realizing that my first day was over, and I had loved every minute of it.

Every morning, I wake up happy because for the first time in my life, I am doing exactly what I was put here on this earth to do. I go to work excitedly thinking of all the ways I can surprise and interest the kids. When I'm with them, I come alive - more so than I ever had before. My classroom is my kingdom, and I am truly in my element. God blessed me with a fantastic bunch of fertile young minds, and sometimes it's all that I can do to keep from dancing while I'm teaching! Sure a kid might talk when I'm talking now and then, and yes, I did assign my first detention today (he got in trouble yesterday and then did not do the punishment homework he was given), but those incidents really don't daunt me at all.

The majority of my students are bright, eager, and very kind. The eighth and ninth graders keep blowing me away with the enthusiasm they tackle my lessons with! I honestly love these kids already - I go home, and they're still on my mind! Over dinner, I'll find myself chuckling over something that Daniel said, or something that Kevin wrote. While I'm watching a movie or reading a book, I'll find myself having to pause just to write down a new lesson idea that popped into my head. When I'm driving, I often smile just remembering things I've witnessed the kids saying or doing. They say that if you do what you love, then you'll never work a day in your life. Well, I certainly do put a lot of work into teaching, but I understand the idea behind that saying. I'm having so much fun and feeling so fulfilled by what I do, that the work is it's own reward. Even tasks like grading are not tedious, because it's all for them.

I know that I have unusually good students, and believe me, I am making the most of it! My ninth graders are just too terrific of kids to subject to boring assignments from the book, so I don't! I have been taking most of their grades from in-class activities and simulations that I concoct. I'm teaching them world history, and we have been in ancient Egypt this week, having already had a pleasant visit with the Sumerians and the Amorites. Next week we'll hang out in Egypt a day or so longer, and then meander over to Phoenicia. The kids turned in projects today that amazed me - I had them make pyramids that illustrated the structure of Egyptian society. They were to show how ten different occupations fit in (how high on the pyramid). I had expected mostly drawings, but I clearly underestimated these students. Four of the kids baked edible projects! Two did 3-D projects (one was built out of legos), and rest did drawings, but made them detailed, colorful, and truly impressive. Then, since they apparently hadn't amazed me enough, every single kid in that class (fifteen students total) studied for their quiz that they had today! The lowest grade was an A-, and that was no easy quiz, either!

The eighth graders haven't been slackers either. In English, they wrote stories that were so hilarious I actually got a stomach ache from laughing while grading them! I had them read a short story by Tolstoy, wondering if perhaps it might be too hard from them, only to have them launch a full-fledged discussion over their reading. They loved that story! We read a play in class, and they proved to be a bunch of Barrymores and Bernhardts. I had them write poems for me, and two of them had me in tears over how beautifully worded they were (a few kids turned out some poetry that would serve a better purpose lining a birdcage, but they at least still followed the directions). In history, I assigned them a research project over pre-columbian Indians on their first day of school (it was due today). Every kid finished in time, and all but one did great work. Their review games are good-natured bloodbaths - this crowd thrives on competition!

The seventh graders aren't as stellar as their upperclassmen, but they definitely aren't a bad bunch. The three girls are sweet and eager to try new things. One of the boys has an encyclopedia for a brain and looks so cute that I'd love to frame him - he looks like a little cherub! The other boys are a bit more typical, but they at least pay attention most of the time and participate well. No one bullies or uses inappropriate language. I do have to harp on two of the boys to get them to stay on task, but that's to be expected at that age level. I still have quite a bit of fun with them! Their English skills leave a lot to be desired at the moment, but since I have now recruited them into my "Grammar Boot Camp," that is subject to change. In history, they are doing quite well on the whole.

The only class I don't enjoy is yearbook, and it has nothing to do with the students (well, actually there is one kid I can't stand, but I am working to try to find positive things about him to focus on). I just am not qualified to teach yearbook and am still a bit dismayed to have suddenly been assigned that class. I am floundering around a bit, trying to figure out what to do, but that will hopefully get better as the year progresses. With the exception of that one reprobate, the class is full of vibrant, interesting students with fun personalities. One kid that I thought at first would be a problem has turned out to be a rather likable and manageable clown. The seniors are all mature, respectful, and responsible. I love listening to (and joining in) their conversations because they are so much more articulate and thoughtful than most American teenagers. They have deep, probing minds, so we've had a few good theology discussions while working on yearbook ideas. I don't know if I'll ever feel happy about teaching this class, but at least the kids in it (minus one) are a blessing to know.

On the whole, I am absolutely amazed at how well things are going in the classroom. Two classes informed me today that I am the new favorite teacher around the school, which I was really not expecting. After these past two weeks, I'm exhausted, but it's a satisfied, happy exhaustion.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"