This is always a weird time of year for me. I am a teacher, so I should be preparing for a new school year. I should be cleaning a classroom and prepping curriculum maps. I should be anticipating the arrival of students, cataloging books, and planning all those amazing lessons that may or may not work, depending on the class dynamic.
But for the third time in five years, I’m not. For all intents and purposes, I’ve only held two full-time, full-year teaching jobs. But I still consider myself a 5th year teacher, because despite my nomadic life, all the jobs I’ve held in the last four years have stayed within the realm of education. I’ve always been in the teaching field – I just haven’t always been a full-time teacher. I’ve subbed, filled in for women on maternity-leave, taught after-school classes, and of course, now there’s The Princeton Review. Between all those jobs, over the last four years I’ve been on the inside of over 10 different private schools across the United States. And without going on too much of a tangent, I’m just going to say that those schools represent a ridiculously wide range of social demographics, educational philosophies, and financial stability. Traditional and progressive, religious and non-religious, wealthy and financially struggling, large and tiny, strict and laid-back, urban, suburban, and out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere — I’ve seen it all.
And guess what. Kids are kids. Teenagers are teenagers. When I was an aspiring teacher in college, I was required to take classes like “Nature of the Exceptional Child,” and “Multicultural Education” — classes that told us how to deal with students with different backgrounds and different challenges. And it is true that every young person has unique learning styles, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Every student has a different cultural experience and home life forming their view of the world. But at their core, kids are kids, and teenagers are teenagers.
The students I teach want to know that I care about them as individuals and about the content I teach. They want to trust me to be honest with them. They’ll push the boundaries, and (believe it or not) they want me to push back, set the lines, and show that I care enough to hold them accountable when they cross those lines. They want to know that I’m willing to see the world from their perspective, even if I don’t agree with them and need to show them a different side things. They want me to be able to laugh with them, to spend time with them when they need help, and to push them to reach a higher level of potential than they believe possible. And I have found all of this to be true at every job I’ve worked, from the huge upper-class academies to the small urban schools struggling to make ends meet. Kids are kids, and teenagers are teenagers – no matter where they are.
Like I said, this is the third time in five years I find myself approaching a new school year without a full-time teaching job, and in the past, that really bothered me. I was scared that I was losing footing in a career field that I loved. I worried that the longer I went without a class of my own, the less likely it was that I’d be hired in the future. But this time it’s different. Maybe it’s because I’ve done the subbing thing before and so now I know I’m good at it. Maybe it’s because I have some online work lined up, so I know I’ll still be able to build my résumé. But I think it really comes down to the fact that I know I’m good at connecting with students, and that’s a skill that I can use wherever I go. Being a good teacher isn’t about simply understanding a specific type of school or certain demographic. It’s about really caring about every student that crosses the classroom. And I can do that, no matter where I am.