When I was in college, I read an excerpt from a textbook on instruction. The passage detailed what it was like for a high school teacher during a snapshot of fifteen minutes. The action was non-stop: students with problems at home, students trying to shove papers at you, student with questions about homework, students who you need to talk with about grades but who keep avoiding you. The bell rings and a student is crying, or someone bullying someone else and the behavior needs to be stopped.
I have had many days like that in my first eight weeks of teaching. However, my average day is measured more by moments of when I feel particularly connected with my students, and the days when I feel I have really taught my students something particularly well.
Today started out in a rush– I attended a Calvin alumni meet-and-greet event with some potential future Calvin students from both my international school and another very good international school in Jakarta. I was out much later than normal, and stayed up almost two hours past my usual bedtime. So, I woke up tired, and to the realization that I didn’t have anything good to eat for breakfast or pack for lunch.
First period was fine. Everything went smoothly, as is pretty usual with my homeroom class of students. My next period was a group of students that I always struggle with, but the lesson was engaging enough and it went better than I had anticipated. The following period was messy: even though it was a duplication of the homeroom class’ assignment, the students didn’t use their time wisely. I ended up confiscating the phone of a student who chronically is disrespectful in my class.
I made him stay in my room after the bell rang, and after talking to him for a solid four minutes about how I think he can improve both his grade and behavior, I opened the conversational floor to him. While during class he had loudly protested his phone being taken away from him, now he was silent.
It started to feel like a power struggle.
He tried to put his head down.
My telling him not to put his head down was the only sentence to break the silence for seventeen minutes.
Needless to say, the interaction didn’t go super well.
I am always exhausted after confrontations like these. The cheating ones, the disrespectful ones… they make me tired, and sad.
But then, my favourite class came in. I shouldn’t pick favourites, I know. But this class is small, and funny and they simultaneously don’t care about school and care too much about school. I had discussion questions prepped for after their vocabulary quiz, and I gave them time to work on finding excerpts from the book so they could participate in the discussion in a smoother fashion.
And, suddenly, the tables turned and the focus of the day went from the one student who I had to confront, to the ten students who wanted to answer the questions. Who encouraged the one particularly quiet student to talk. Who wanted to sit on the floor in a circle, and who actually tried to pull meaning from the questions.
Not every day can end so well, but I feel blessed. Many times I feel as if I am not qualified enough to teach at the level demanded of me, and that even when I work hard I will fall short. But today, it all just feel into place, as if the novel that I thought they didn’t understand was actually palatable for them, that they actually could go back and response and understand and know.
So today, I felt connected.
Like all the hard work was worth it, and everything is working out.
And it’s a good feeling.