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Reflection on teaching
Before I became a high school teacher, I imagined myself sitting with a room full of students passionately discussing why Vardamen calls himself a fish in As I Lay Dying, or how the epistolary form impacts our understanding of Celie in The Color Purple. I imagined scrawling comments all over students’ essays and stories, asking them to revise again and again. I imagined discussing whether it is more effective to control citizens with pleasure (Brave New World) or pain (1984).
My teaching ambitions were overly simplistic, but all of this did come true, even if not precisely as I envisioned it. What I didn't understand is that developing and executing a lesson plan would be just one part of the work, and that there is so much more that teaching would offer me, require of me, demand of me.
I did not imagine that students’ complicated love triangles would have anything to do with English class, or that their experiences with love and betrayal would dramatically affect our discussions about whether Puck is playful or sinister in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I didn’t imagine snowshoeing in the woods after school with students, walking beneath tunnels of branches bowed under the weight of the snow. I didn’t imagine the student who would unexpectedly give me a chocolate bar: “I know you like chocolate, and it seemed like you had a hard day yesterday, Ms. Rich, so here’s this.” I didn’t imagine spending evenings worried about a student who didn’t have a bed to sleep in at home. Or that I would spend a week living and working with students on an organic farm, learning about food systems, sustainability, and how to milk a goat. I didn’t imagine the student who, during a class discussion of Things Fall Apart, would say that Okonkwo reminded him of his own angry, violent father.
I didn’t imagine staring out the windshield of my car after receiving a phone call to notify me that one of my students, a fifteen-year-old with a mischievous smile, had died. I didn’t imagine repeating over and over: “But he just turned in his best piece of writing this year...” I didn’t imagine the comfort the rain, and the rhythmic swoosh of the windshield wipers, would provide. I didn’t imagine the anger I would feel at the same time: why don’t wipers reach the corners of car windshields? Why didn’t anyone think about those raindrops?
I didn’t imagine a global pandemic and a year of teaching students remotely on a computer screen from my living room, with my dog occasionally barking in the background. I didn’t imagine a student (who I had yet to meet in person) staying after class on Google Meet to tell me that her lava lamp is really what is getting her through COVID-19 and remote learning. “Well, the lava lamp and studying puppetry in between classes.”
I didn’t imagine the complexity of balancing what happens inside the classroom with the impact of the world outside the classroom. I didn’t imagine that there would be times when it felt not only okay, but vital, to put aside our books and my lesson plan to focus on something happening in real time outside of the classroom.
I didn’t imagine how much teaching would challenge me. I didn't imagine how teaching would shape the way I see everything. I didn't imagine how much I would love my students, especially the ones with mischievous smiles.