Reflections of a First Year Teacher…
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
I generally take inventory, mulling over the day’s occurrences, in the car. Sometimes, I pull out of the school parking lot at 4:15, but most days I enter the swerving, beeping, bumbling mass that is Atlanta traffic at least an hour later. My mind calms. I tick through the list.
Current state of the room: fair. The lingering smell of hot sauce is gone cleaned up before the spill burned everyone’s nostrils. A handful of marker caps are missing. The mobiles made of the letters of their names are just what that corner needed …
Range of student emotions experienced today: typical morning grouchiness – frustration accompanied by unexpected tears – sudden, budding interest – pure joy – a mounting well of energy typically only witnessed in adolescents.
Worries: Will the school dance be as exciting as the kids imagine it will be? How am I going to convey Poe’s brilliance during Language Arts? One of the students seemed down today; I hope he remembers he can always talk to me . . .
Sometimes, I feel like I spend my days gathering debris and attempting to arrange it in the proper order–Inspector Gadget hands extending in all directions, catching the pieces as they fall. Nonetheless, I am overjoyed to pursue a vocation that accommodates my nature and allows me to ponder everything from Spanish dialects to symbolism to how the human brain works ~ in the course of a morning.
So here I am, in the car on the way home assessing the details of a day in Caleb and Ricci’s room and picking the details apart with a fine-tooth comb. I believe it was the kids that started to dismantle my sense of perfectionism, encouraging me to live in the questions. I can’t pinpoint a specific moment in time because an amalgamation of incidents probably did it ~
• Looking across a room littered with paint and paper scraps, stray glue sticks, and dull pencils and watching learning peacefully taking place above it.
• Wading through a stream with the children ~ no, all of us~ covered in mud and dry leaves, and seeing the students’ eyes lighten with the adventure of it all.
Children have a way of doing that–undermining adult silliness and reminding us of a largely forgotten truth. I’ve always believed a teacher’s role is more facilitator than instructor and often tell the kids to find peace in “living the questions.” But that belief can sometimes be buried beneath the idea that it’s my job to “fix” and “straighten” and “bring order.” I was blatantly ignoring my own advice. I forgot that it’s impossible to have all the answers.
Thankfully, our students aren’t preoccupied with straightening just yet. They’re far more concerned with things like wonder and imagination (and the best songs on Pandora’s “Today’s Hits” playlist).
Teaching is truly a mad mission. A host of human beings are thrown into a classroom, and in the midst of the disarray that relationships and varied goals bring, a community of learning is born. As a first year teacher, I’m continually amazed at how quickly that community has formed, at how fast our students have taught me something as simple as letting go. I’m still ironing out the details, but I have a feeling they will graciously accept my best effort.
And so I’ve started cataloguing with new eyes on my way home.
Current state of the room: one big, beautiful mess . . .