Most of the time I like to keep my posts upbeat, but lately I’ve been dealing with a heavy heart and mind, so I decided to break the rules and lament a bit.
I am coming to the end of my teaching career. I feel it. I know it. In fact, I was very close to not going back to school this year. For five years or longer I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to my ideal little dream town and trying something new. I almost had my chance this summer. I went in for the interview and kept my fingers crossed, but it didn’t happen.
It’s no secret. My principal knows what I’ve been going through, and I told him he truth about how hard I knew this year was going to be. I don’t always speak, but quiet doesn’t always mean shy. Sometimes it just means keeping a distance.
My parents were like that. They were very stoic. I guess that’s why I have such a difficult time opening up to people. They certainly didn’t open up to me. Today was a rough day. For the first time since my father died, I drove out to the cemetery and visited the grave sites. Funny how life is. Only a few months ago, he and I sat a distant relative’s house picking out the tombstone. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t realize that only days after it would be ready for my mother’s grave, his name would be inscribed on it as well.
But what really hit me was the little headstone next to theirs—infant son. I stood in front of my brother’s grave, a brother I never knew, nobody knew. For five years before I was born, my father and mother had a different family of three, a mother, a father, and a baby that never took his first breath.
But my parents never shared anything about him with me. They were too private. They kept it all inside. Until today I didn’t even know his birth date. I found it ironic how my mother died on the 25th, my brother on the 26th, and my father the 27th.
And now they’re united in Heaven.
But after all these years it just now dawned on me how my parents never showed any emotion. I went on with my happy little life, oblivious to what they must have felt ever time his birthday rolled around. They never gave him a name, but I think I recall my dad telling me what they had planned to call him—or maybe it was the name they had chosen to call me if I were a boy.
I do know they almost named me Cindy. I look in the mirror sometimes and try to picture myself as Cindy. No. I don’t feel like a Cindy. But I never liked the name Teresa. I never could say it right. I pronounce it Treesa. I even consider changing it to Terri in college, with my father’ s blessing. But all my high school friends called me Tee, so I stuck with that.
I was named after the singer Teresa Brewer. I’ll never know the impact she had on my parents’ life, but it was enough to name their only living child after her.
During the last year I’ve undergone tremendous change. And as I stated before, I didn’t want to go back to school. Teaching requires a lot of giving of oneself. To be honest, I felt as though I had nothing left to give. But to make matters worse, not only did I receive a new curriculum for my dual-enrollment classes, I also received a new class, giving me a total of four preparations.
I’m used to being super woman, but not his year. I just didn’t have it in me. When I walked in to face this new class of students, I didn’t want to teach, I saw a roomful of trouble. The students didn’t want to stay in their seats. They were chronically late. They didn’t work. They never had their materials.
But they grew on me, and I opened my heart to them. I think they really believe I love them. And you wouldn’t believe what a change has overcome them. They work hard now. I’m so proud. It pays to invest in someone else’s life, especially if you are a teacher.
My greatest fear with all this state testing is that we teachers will become very self-centered and competitive, thinking about ourselves and forgetting about our students. We may find a way to wrangle out of teaching the low students. But the lowest students need the greatest investment and often yield the greatest return.
Kids don’t participate because they’re afraid to open up. They’re afraid of ridicule. They’re afraid to be vulnerable. That’s why I model vulnerability in front of them.
I know how it feels to to be imperfect. But I want my students to know I care about them unconditionally.
I’ll be honest. The most difficult people I’ve ever had to work with are religious people. Many of them have led such blessed lives they don’t understand desperation. They don’t understand people will do just about anything when they can’t find the love they need.
Mother Teresa said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” She also said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
My parents taught me to be tough, to keep up my guard. There are very few people who see the real me. Trust me, I can be rather annoying. I’m like a naïve child in an adult’s body. I’m so far from sophisticated and pretentious, that I’m playful. Not everyone likes playful. Students included, but I try to stay as far away from pretentious as I can. Most of my students who have been hurt appreciate the vulnerability.
I don’t think it’s possible to love without being vulnerable. And I do love these kids, especially this special rambunctious group of hooligans that I dreaded teaching at the beginning of the year. They changed my life.
Children, even almost adult children, have a way of doing that, changing lives. One of our fantastic English teachers asked her students to honor their favorite teachers this week. I was surprised to receive letters from a couple of my journalism students. Here are just a couple of excerpts (used with their permission).
“You, as our fearless leader, have taught us, not only about journalism, but also about life as a whole. One never stops learning. Cupcakes can be suicidal. Chocolate helps. When in doubt, Febreeze-Run it out. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign you’ve been strong for a long time. There should be a Rock ‘n Roll setting in lazer tag. Never pass up the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better. Haters need to be shown more love. The best time for good music is all the time. ~ E. W.
“The newbies don’t know it yet cause they haven’t been around long enough, but we are a family, and we love each other like a family. All I have to say is you’re the best Newspaper Family Mom anyone could have.” ~ H. E.
I’m looking forward to my last days of teaching, but I’m ready to move on to my next career. Why? Because I think God has a plan for me to use what I’ve learned to help kids in a way I can’t help them in a school environment. Who has time to care when all we focus on are the tests? I’m not planning on retiring soon, but the day will come in God’s time.
Remember Dian Fossey, the woman who lived with the gorillas in the mountainous forests of Rwanda for years and years? Well, she and I are a lot alike. I’ve feel as though after the decades of teaching teenagers, I know them as well as anyone can.
I understand their vulnerability because I give them mine. Becoming vulnerable allows a person to be target for ridicule and revenge, but it’s hard to love behind a wall. So if I take down the wall and make myself vulnerable, you know I’m serious about love.
And that’s why I want to write for teens. I want to give them something real to hold onto–even if it’s a book. S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders changed my life and made me feel what love was meant to be. Maybe I can do that for teenagers someday.
If I ever get the chance, I hope God allows me to publish my book and then travel around the region hilding workshops in writing to teach teens how to write. I want them to find their own success. I don’t want to give up teaching. I just want to try it in a new environment.
I’m not the best teacher. I’m not the smartest. I’ve won numerous awards and been recognized on television a couple of times for my success. I look great “on paper.” But all of that means nothing if I don’t get into the heart of a student.
Today I receive one of my honorable awards—a Christmas card from Kimberly, a student I had in class ten years ago. She still remembered me, and she told me I made a difference in her life.
I call that success. And opening up that part of me was worth the risk of vulnerability.