The understated joys of teaching

Photo courtesy of Casey Gomez

As I’m sitting here writing this, I have just completed my last full day as a seventh grade social studies teacher for the summer.

Eight weeks ago, I walked into my “rental” classroom for the first time at The Lovett School with butterflies in my stomach—and not the good kind. The kind that make you feel overwhelmed by how nervous you are.

What business did I have in here, teaching seventh graders about history? I hated seventh grade, and I had wanted to teach ninth grade English.

When I sent in my application for the summer internship, I had no idea what would come of it. I thought that teaching was where I saw myself in the future, but whenever anyone asked I said “I want to teach high school English Language Arts.” I did a few research projects on education policy. I’m a Literature major (kind of). I’ve worked with kids. Teaching should be pretty natural for me, right?

I could not have been more wrong.

Teaching is, without contest, the hardest job I’ve ever done. It’s not just the nearly 60-hour work weeks; it’s taking work home, grading projects and lesson planning on my Sunday afternoons. It’s trying to figure out classroom management and building a classroom culture, which are tricky enough to navigate on their own.

I once had a teacher tell me that teaching is a profession that doesn’t bring in many fiscal rewards (an opinions piece for another day). But, teaching brings in an abundance of rewards beyond the paycheck. Maybe I did have to cut down on my coffee purchases, but I left work every single day feeling joyful.

Likewise, teaching is the most fulfilling job I’ve ever done. In my all-too-short, eight-week tenure as a teacher, I learned to appreciate the 5:30 a.m. alarms, the weekends spent planning my lessons and the evenings with parent conferences well after 8:00 p.m. because they were worthy sacrifices for the joy I felt by being a part of these kids’ lives.

It was just eight weeks—but I know that during those eight weeks, I spent more time with my students than almost anyone else.

Walking out of the job now, I am finally realizing that this opportunity is one of the greatest privileges of my life thus far.

Yeah, I might have hated seventh grade, but my students (who I’ve since started to refer to as “my kiddos”) also hate seventh grade, as has been evidenced through the tears they’ve shed, the frustration they’ve experienced and the stories they’ve shared with me throughout our time together. The coolest thing about teaching is being able to make this time — a time that we can all unanimously agree sucks — more bearable for them.

I have had the privilege to talk to my kids through their personal struggles, to listen about what’s hurting them, to remind them that I am here to support them, listen to them and advocate for them.

Teaching is the hardest job I’ve ever had, and I was only teaching for two months. But, it is undoubtedly the best position I’ve ever been in.

As I walked out of my classroom today, my last day, I no longer felt those overwhelming nerves I had as I walked in. Instead, I feel sad, grateful and a whole lot of love.

I will miss “my kiddos.” Those two dozen 12-year-olds that turned these past eight weeks into the best summer of my life, who made me a better person, and who absolutely convinced me that teaching seventh grade is what I want to do with my life, without question.

I can only hope that I taught them half as much about history as they taught me about my future in education.