In these last three weeks, I have learned how to play more grammar games than I’ve ever imagined, accept criticism with kindness and a grain of salt, survive with an average of 5 hours of sleep per night, and write and revise and write and revise and write and revise lesson plans. I’m still working on the “teacher look”, classroom time management, and oh, did I mention, writing and revising lesson plans? But beyond all these things, the most important lesson that I’ve learned, as cheesy as it sounds, is that love really is powerful enough to break boundaries.
I have to admit that during Orientation Week, I was scared about whether I would be able to connect with my kids. I know that teaching them is more important than connecting with them, but Breakthrough isn’t regular school. At Breakthrough, heart and mind are not compartmentalized as mutually exclusive entities, but rather, students are both challenged and cared for. But who am I to be a mentor for these kids? I remember my heart sinking when I first saw the test scores of my eighth-graders, and three words just dominated my mind: I can’t relate. The same anxiety hit me the first day when I stood in front of my first class, which consists of 1 girl and 6 guys. How am I, little-asian-girl-from-SoCal-who-grew-up- in-the-suburbs-and-has-gotten-straight-A-s-all-her-life, supposed to connect or inspire or even manage, a class full of rowdy-black-and-hispanic-boys-who-are-not-from-the-best-neighborhoods-and-haven’t-been-given-any-of-the-advantages-that-I-have? Oh, and they’re all taller than me.
As soon as the teaching began, though, I realized that I don’t have time for all these worries. I don’t have time for sociological analysis. This isn’t to say that all the research we were assigned to read about race, socio-economic background, and teaching are not insightful and valid, but I quickly realized that I didn’t have before me theoretical barriers or sociological statistics. I have in my classroom, in my sphere of influence, every day, 16 kids that desperately need someone to care about them, as students and as people.
Furthermore, I’ve realized that I can affect their lives without being that Hollywood-worthy inspirational role model. I know that I’m never going to be that for these kids. They are not going to wake up one day and say, “Gee, look at Nancy. She was just like me, but look at where she is today. Wow, that’s inspiring”, because it wouldn’t be true.
But, somehow, in the last three weeks, I’ve earned their respect and trust and even affection. I am fully aware of the world of social injustice, educational inequity, and institutionalized racism that these kids live in. But when I am with my students, I am not with “problems” or “projects”. I’m with kids that I love, and they know that.