Several years ago, changes happened at my school which sort of broke me. I’m not going to go into detail; please don’t ask. However, the changes caused huge ripples in my class and took my self-confidence and shook it to the core.
I don’t have a lot of self-confidence; at the same time, in talking with other people, I’m starting to realize that my lack of self-confidence is not such a huge anomaly as I thought it was. A lot of people whom I know don’t see themselves as the wonderful people they are. They keep on focusing on their mistakes and their flaws, much like how I see me.
The fact is, when I look back on my career, the years and events that stood out to me the most was when I just relaxed and let me be me. I stopped worrying about curriculum and the word rigor and focused on trying new things without worrying if they were going to work or not. Those were the years when I started almost every class with a “funny” or a humorous video or a comical email that was clean enough to use in school. I wanted the students to laugh simply because they needed to laugh.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again here, quality literature is friggin’ depressing. I wish I could find happy. light-hearted literature that didn’t read like a book full of potty humor, but I haven’t found it yet. And I’ve been searching. So, to compensate for this, I used funnies to start my classes so the students would have a few minutes to laugh before the work started.
And then the changes arrived and the funnies disappeared.
And I worried about making sure that I was challenging enough or doing the right thing which was “smart” or “critical thinking.”
I lost sight of myself. I started to forget who I was and the person who loved to teach because it was also like being payed to play.
Even seniors want to regress a little and have a little bit of fun every now and then.
I started my high school career working in a trailer. Most people would see this as an insult or a demotion. I learned the first day that I was given a huge gift. Privacy. Autonomy. An environment where I could exist by my own definition and live by that definition without fear of repercussion. Because no one came out to the trailers because it was too far away from the center of the high school universe.
When it snowed, I took the students outside and we’d run around the trailer and have snowball (or, rather, snow puff) fights. Eighteen year olds acting like little children and laughing is a beautiful sound. Add that to the light, crisp sound of snowflakes hitting the earth and you have magic.
Or times in May when the temperatures rose, the trees had enough leaves to make decent shade, and the world’s orbit was a little slower. That’s when literary analysis became punctuated with water wars.
And then we had the rubber band wars.
The students and I painted the trailer a cranberry red, brought in dumpster dived recliners and a couch no one wanted, and watched television when history unfolded itself. On days with extended periods, we’d have sumptuous meals that had nothing to do with literary analysis but everything to do with conversations and community development. Guest speakers came in and out of the door and I never worried about how applicable they were to standardized testing. My students were learning from living history itself.
We lived by our own schedules. We had our own private environment in which we could discuss whatever we wanted and talk about life, the universe, and literature. Students had a hidey-hole when their worlds collapsed. I had a place to run to when life at home was frantic with grief and sadness.
And then I lost sight of the teacher that I wanted to be because I felt like I had been missing some academic pulse that was still throbbing just beneath my fingertips. I let go of me to become a weird alter-reality, doppelgänger me.
This year, as I have researched student apathy and started learning more and more about the reality of the students and why they are tired of school, I also started to find the old teacher in me who was hiding behind the wrappings of pedagogy and methodology and paper work and curriculum framework and other big words that were applicable to me but were not part of my skin. I hadn’t tattooed those words on to me. I had only used a Sharpie which I could still remove with a little effort and a couple of alcohol prep pads.
Today, I floated around my classroom, talking with students about everything from the literature we were studying to books we had read to modes of writing to Mary Sues in literature to where they were going to go to college to life in general. I showed funnies this week, the first time in a while. I indulged in a little bit of laughter and decided that the surge of joy erupting from my belly felt good.
Welcome home, shadow-girl. Welcome home Peter Pan teacher. Let’s get ready to play.