I’ve tried to write this post at least once each month since I left the news world and jumped into teaching, but every time I did, I didn’t feel like I’d spent enough time in my new position. With spring break only 12 days away and the end of my first year of teaching nearly over, I feel beyond qualified to write out my feelings about being an educator.
I remember when I gave my notice to CBS12 and told everyone I would teach middle school. The responses were all the same, “Good luck!” Middle school was hard for most people, and middle schoolers weren’t the most manageable group to deal with... Or at least that’s what we all thought, myself included.
But as I stare down spring break, I can reassure you that I was wrong.
Middle schoolers aren’t much different from the adults I have dealt with in the production world. The drama that fuels their young lives is easily on par with the adults I’ve worked with on stage or in a newsroom. A decade in the creative world has prepared me well enough to handle nearly 100 students and their wide range of emotions.
I thought figuring out what to teach would be the most challenging part of my first year. So far, that has been the easiest. Watching how the students digest information, what they pick up on or not, has been amazing. Who knew that middle schoolers would be able to shoot a “live to tape” newcast after only a few weeks of training and routing schedules?
My husband says I have high expectations of children. I expect them to be little adults and fully grasp everything I throw at them. By having this high expectation, I’ve challenged my students. When I started teaching, I knew how many of them wanted to switch out of my program. It wasn’t because of me but because of how unhappy they were with the previous teacher and how she ran her class. They all quickly learned I was not like their former teacher, and soon I found out that students were trying to return or switch to my program.
That felt amazing, mostly because I’ve been winging it the whole time. I have set forth goals for them to reach, and when I see them wavering on an exercise, I readjust everything to help them focus on their weaknesses. I want them to grow and learn but at the same time have fun.
I try to remember the different projects I did in my high school T.V. production class. They were great. All those projects taught me how to work creatively and face challenges, and because of them, I felt years ahead of some of my college classmates. My goal is to have my students feel just as comfortable walking into their high school T.V. production program as I did going into college. I want them to have all the tools at their fingertips while learning how to work in a new studio.
I wish this is where teaching ending. I got the lesson planning stuff under wraps. Projects are getting easier to sort out. But what isn’t easy are all the other things that teachers are to their students. Depending on the relationship you develop with your students, you might become the person they turn to when they are in trouble or just need to vent. I have become that with quite a few students, and you’re dealing with a crapfest of emotions in middle school. Everyone is learning how to human all over again.
It’s like watching my two-year-old daughter learn how to express her emotions without words. But for middle schoolers, these emotions are nuclear bombs. Everything is the end of the world, and it’s probably because their hormones are out of whack. They are learning how to deal with the influx of insanity in their brains. Nothing prepared me for is how dangerous these three years can be for a child’s psyche.
I know the signs of depression and self-harm all too personally. I’ve lost friends to suicide. I have adult friends with scars up and down their bodies.
These signs aren’t always easy for parents and teachers to see. But as teachers, we see the students more than their parents sometimes. I know in my class, students create things that expose their emotions without even realizing it. I’ve watched them change from happy kids to slowly slipping into dark places, and their projects scream their mental state. When I see this, I reach out to my students. I try to see how they are doing? If there is any way I can help them while they are present in my class or on campus. Sometimes all they are looking for is someone to relate to or just listen to them vent about what’s going on at home.
It’s hard not to take things personally. It’s hard to know that you can’t take away their pain or explain that all of this won’t matter in just a few short years. The bullies won't matter. Stress about testing will be gone, and they are free to live their lives. College isn’t a must. There are so many options for living their lives, but most can’t see past tomorrow.
I know I will always be hypervigilant when it comes to my students. I’d rather be known as the teacher who worried about her students’ emotional welling being as well as their academic success, opposed to the one that was too busy to care about more than just grades.