*Originally posted June 7, 2013*
I have wanted to be a teacher ever since about Grade 4 or 5.
When I was in Grade 4 and 5 my group of friends and I were particularly dramatic and horrible to one another and we had these horrendous fights on what seemed like a daily basis. Because we were such nasty 10-year-olds, we would often have to go see the school counsellor to use conflict resolution and work out whatever issues we had going on. I remember the counsellor telling us that we were experiencing issues very early; Grade 9 girls usually go through the kind of drama that we were experiencing at the age of 10. It. Was. Ridiculous.
The counsellor also helped us sort out our own issues that would arise from the group issues. One friend was unhappy with her home life and took to compulsively lying (I remember her making up this atrociously graphic story of how her grandmother was killed, only to find out that her grandmother was very much alive and she had just lied because she was bored.) I got to talk about how I was unhappy that I was so round. (I was a BIG kid in Grade 3 and 4.)
By the time the end of Grade 5 rolled around, I had decided that I definitely wanted to be a school counsellor when I grew up so that I could help people. They could come to me and talk and I could help them to feel better. I asked around and found out that I would need to become a normal teacher first before I could become a school counsellor. So I set my sights on getting whatever qualifications I needed to become a teacher.
Then I went to high school and found choir, yearbook, school dances, the volleyball team, and the cool teachers who treated you like you were an adult. And I decided that I definitely wanted to become a high school teacher when I grew up. I could teach kids and treat them like adults (maybe I could even occasionally swear and get away with it!), and I could volunteer to help with all of the extra-curricular activities (which were my favourite when I was actually attending high school). This sentiment has stuck with me ever since. I have gone to university and finished my degree in English and Sociology and am going to start my teaching program in the Fall.
However, I find that, even in the last 10 months, my reasons for wanting to teach high school have changed.
I began volunteering at a high school in September of last year with two of the best English teachers I have ever met. At the time, I thought that I would sit in their classrooms and watch them teach, I may occasionally help students with their work, and I would write on my application to teaching programs that I had volunteered in classrooms and it would be great. While I did do all of those things, I was lucky enough to get to experience so much more than that.
Both teachers allowed me to plan my own lessons and teach their classes. This experience alone exceeded my expectations and prepared me for teaching in a way that I didn’t even know that I needed. I learned that 1) Lesson planning is a lot of work and 2) kids don’t really care that you planned a whole lesson for them. Learning how to manage a class while also delivering all of the important knowledge that you have prepared to impart on them is not an easy task. Thankfully I got to practice with two of the best watching me and giving me feedback.
Another experience that I was fortunate enough to have was to actually getting to know the students and form personal relationships with them. When you take Education courses they tell you that you need to take an interest in the students’ lives and you need to connect with them on a personal level. Looking back, my favourite teachers all did that extremely well and that’s part of the reason I liked them so much. And I always intended on being a teacher who cared about what their students did outside of school. But I got a crash course in learning how to be involved in a student’s life and on being available to them for more than just help with school work.
Nothing could have prepared me for having to talk to an upset Grade 12 boy about how he is being bullied and is depressed.
Nothing could have prepared me for seeing an admission to self-harm while marking a student’s homework.
Nothing could have prepared me for seeing a student half stumble into class, disoriented and pale, seeing administration take him away assuming he’s high on something, only to find out (and much to his surprise as well) that he had a low blood sugar problem.
Nothing could have prepared me for having to sit with a Grade 12 boy as he found out that his close friend had passed away.
These were only some of the difficult and heartbreaking moments that I was experienced while I was volunteering this year. Luckily, I was being coached by someone and was not actually the one actually in charge who had to really deal with these issues. I was so fortunate to have to deal with the hard, impossible moments while, really, someone else was the one who had to deal with them and to have people who experienced the same moments who could talk me through them.
It has been wonderful to see these students overcome and deal with the horrible events and emotions that they’ve been through. Knowing that these students go through so much makes it that much better to see them having a good time with their friends and joking around with me. It’s even better to know that they’re going off to university and getting to start a very exciting part of their lives!
There were also fantastic moments that I was fortunate enough to be a part of that changed my motivation to become a high school teacher.
Watching a student give an impromptu lesson on satire to his entire class was something that I did not expect to see, and it made my day.
Helping a Grade 8 girl study for an English exam would not have been on my list of fun things to do…until I did it.
Hearing students say, “Ohhh…I get it now!”
Being asked to sign a student’s yearbook for the first time made me feel like I actually made a difference by being there.
I no longer want to teach because it seems like it would be fun to do. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely will be fun and that is one of the reasons I am going to be a teacher. But now I want to teach because I get to be a part of people’s lives and I get to help them turn into adults, even if it’s just in a small way. I’ll be there for “ah ha!” moments. I’ll be there when there are cries for help. I’ll be there to talk about the movie that came out last week. I’ll be there to listen to the heartbreak, the bad joke, or the frustrated rants about high school. I’ll be there to say that it will be okay. I’ll be there to laugh at them when they do something stupid and say, “What were you thinking?!” I’ll be there to help them make the right choices. I’ll be there to hear about when they make the wrong choices. I’ll be there as an adult that is helping to shape them into the adults that they will one day be.
Volunteering this year has opened my eyes to what teaching is. It’s not just simply teaching them English or Social Studies. It’s realizing that, sometimes, Othello is not the most important thing in their lives. It’s understanding that a break up at 15 years old is the end of the world. It’s understanding that sometimes when you’re sitting with your best friend, it is impossible to stop the giggling. It’s everyday life stuff, crammed into one building with a bunch of teenagers.
I know that I’m not looking to make a difference in every kid’s life. I’m not expecting some cheesy movie moment where some kid thanks me for saving them. I’m just looking to experience the every day moments that slowly help a kid turn into an adult.
So thank you to the two amazing teachers that have guided me through one hell of a year of volunteering. Thank you to the two other amazing teachers at my other (unfortunately short-lived) schools. And thank you to all of the students that I’ve come across this year. You didn’t know it, but you were teaching me more than I could have asked for. It has been an absolute pleasure watching you develop from the nervous Grade 8s to the confident almost-Grade 9s, from the comfortable and bored Grade 10s to the cocky-but-not-too-cocky almost Grade-11s, and the lost and confused Grade 12s to the still lost and confused Grade 12s who are almost real adults. I have had the most amazing time with all of you and I can’t wait to start on the next part of my journey to becoming a high school teacher.