From my May 9, 2009, 9:09 am (for real!) Journal. I feel sorry for students who have to live through a teacher’s first year in the classroom. I’d like to apologize to any of my 1977 Berean Academy students reading this blog.
One of my students read on my Facebook page that I’d be visiting her city this week. She wrote back to say, “I only live half an hour away!” So I invited her to visit my hotel room for the afternoon. While reminiscing about those years in the classroom, I made the statement that I was a bad teacher. “That’s a lie,” she declared. “Maybe you were inexperienced and uninformed but not bad.” I appreciated the affirmation, but it still felt true in my heart.
After we parted, I thought back to my teaching experiences at Berean and at two community colleges and decided to list all the good and bad memories that were stuck in my brain from those years. I suppose I could go to each of these memories and issues and deal with them one by one, but I think I need to start with the big picture—my view of myself. I felt tall and rigid on the inside, trying to appear bigger and older than I was in order to stay in control of my classroom so the students wouldn’t run all over me.
I felt like a shepherdess trying to herd her sheep or goats that were running in all directions, and I didn’t know how to corral them. I wanted to be like my teachers who had good classroom discipline and not like others who let the students run the show. I hear myself saying a lot of words to these sheep, but not all of them are paying attention. I’m trying to teach, but they’re self-absorbed, busy eating, or wandering off.
In those days wasting time, in my opinion, was about the biggest sin one could commit. I was a master at planning, organizing, and accomplishing, and I expected my students to follow suit. One day I remember making a false accusation to one of my students about the use of his time, and his retort had stung. What did I conclude about myself at this point? That I’m just an ignorant teacher? That I don’t really know my students? I felt shame and embarrassment, and his words left me feeling like he’d snared me in a steel trap.
Because the teeth only caught my clothes, in my mind I can shed that article of clothing and wriggle free—but that doesn’t take away the emotions. I need to apologize: “You’re right; I accused you falsely. I don’t know what you do with your time outside of class.” The teeth unclench, but the student is still wary. He doesn’t know if he can trust me. And so I have to be wary around him now. I don’t like this feeling.
I see Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves trying to woo the wolf. He’s gentle as he coaxes and encourages. I could have done that with this student. Instead, I clammed up and clamped down to protect my ego.
My picture of the shepherdess with her sheep now changes. I can woo and call and encourage instead of chase and run after and herd. And how do I feel now about myself as a teacher? I’m no longer hiding behind a teacher’s desk. I’m sitting beside the students, encouraging and mentoring them.
Was I indeed a bad teacher? No. Just a girl trying to find her own way. I’m sad that I didn’t know then what I know now. Life is such a learning process, and we sometimes leave damage in our wake of inexperience. But each of us must process our lies and wounds from our childhoods. I pray my students will have the grace to forgive me when God brings to light any pain I’ve caused them.
I was so green back then, like an unripe banana. Why do we allow green bananas in the classroom? I know everyone has to start somewhere, but we don’t ripen till we go through the process. God is ripening me little by little and, hopefully, I’m becoming sweeter as I stay closely attached to the tree stem. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll be mature enough to be plucked; and should I become overripe, there’s always banana bread!