Monday, September 11, 2006. Anderson High. Seven years ago, today.
That was my first day of teaching, ever.1
It was a day when I honestly had no idea if I would be any good at this.2
The previous Tuesday, on my first day of observing3 the Algebra students who would make-or-break my slightly uncertain foray into the world of teaching, I was sitting in the back during passing period and a few of the rascals were making fun of Steve Irwin (the “crocodile hunter”) — who had been tragically killed by a stingray over the Labor Day weekend. They were saying things like, “He was dumb!” and “I’m glad the stingray killed him!”4 and I remember thinking to myself, “My gosh these kids are monsters, and they’re gonna destroy me. -_-“
I’m HAPPY for the stingray!
So on that 11th — the first Monday — as I was introducing myself to that 2nd period class, heart in my stomach, while passing out a stack of worksheets, one of the kids — who struck me as the “queen bee” type — raised her hand and asked, “Wait, does this mean you’re gonna be our teacher?” I thought to myself, “Yup. This is where they destroy me.” When I explained that yes, they would indeed be stranded5 with me for the next twelve weeks, she responded with a quaint:
I was a nervous wreck, and that’s honestly about the ONLY thing I remember from that entire week.6 I remember almost stopping mid-step and thinking to myself, “NO. Wait… WHY is that cool? I’ve never taught before, I have NO idea what I’m doing standing up here in front of you guys… that is NOT cool.”
And I don’t even really know if she actually meant “cool” as in “cool”, or… “cool” as in “this actually bites cuz you look like a tool but I’m going to be a polite little teenager and say ‘cool’ anyway.” But it was a nice gesture that had a bigger impact on me than I think anyone else would have picked up on. It goes to show that the smallest gestures can really and truly go a long way, and that it doesn’t take much to make7 someone’s day.8
After graduating from Texas in 2001 and taking a belly-flop of a gig with a local semiconductor joint during the dot-com burst,9 our church group spent a month on the east coast of Russia in the summer of 2004. That experience was transformational, and gave me a new perspective on — among other things — life and career. I entered the UTeach program the following January, and suddenly before I knew it, I was standing in front of two dozen+ high school freshmen, voice trembling, scared as freak, wondering if I’d be looking into a third career by week’s end… and there I was, holding on the words,
I always look back at that first day as being critically pivotal in my story. If things had gone belly-up during that student teaching gig, then these last seven years would likely have gone in a completely different direction.10 I certainly wouldn’t have ended up at McNeil the following January… and these past seven seasons — to which the word “magical” hardly does justice — would never have come to pass. For starters, I wouldn’t be preparing for my 7th Open House, which is tonight.11
A common job interview question for prospective teachers used to be12, “Is it more important to you for the students to LIKE you, or to RESPECT you?” The textbook answer is of course the latter, but let’s be honest, most decent human beings also care about the former. A lot of those kids should be graduating college this year, which absolutely blows my mind. To this day, I still don’t really understand why those kids took so well to me… but they did, and they were truly an amazing bunch.
- Student teaching, yes, but teaching, still. [↩]
- Truly… sometimes I still don’t. [↩]
- I had a week to observe the class before taking over the teaching duties [↩]
- Seriously! I couldn’t believe my ears! [↩]
- no, I didn’t actually use the word “stranded” [↩]
- well, aside from how tired I was that Friday afternoon, which was literally THE most exhausted I have ever felt in my entire life, even today [↩]
- or conversely, break [↩]
- So go be nice to someone today. You really don’t know how big of an impact it might have. [↩]
- At the time, most places were rescinding job offers, instead of extending them. [↩]
- I probably would have pursued grad school, for starters… and then, who knows what. [↩]
- and actually, I could almost do without, as I wouldn’t describe staying at school until 9PM as “magical” [↩]
- and maybe it still is? [↩]