I think before I get much further into writing this blog, perhaps we should take a moment to get real about why I became a teacher in the first place.
If someone had told me I would end up teaching high school English, I would have laughed in their face. No way. I hated school growing up. I skipped so much school that I failed my 9th grade English class. I was the party girl, the bad kid, the one who got suspended, the one who talked back to all of her teachers, who was sent to the office on an almost daily basis, the one who didn’t seem to care about much.
In reality, I probably cared too much. I was hurting. I came from a background that had left me scared and scarred. It made me resent any authority figure telling me what to do. It made me rebellious, which made me feel strong. Let me tell you, strength feels good after a childhood of being weak. Of worry and anxiety and fear. I was strong when I said “make me,” and they weren’t able to. I thought I was so tough, so powerful, and I needed to feel that way after he left. I needed to take back my own power, but I didn’t realize I was only hurting myself even more.
I was failing classes (including my 9th grade English class), I was hanging out with kids that wanted to smoke, and drink, and party with me to the point that it seemed perfectly normal to spend every night at someone’s house in that very way. We thought we were so cool. We imagined ourselves to be grown-ups. Our world-weariness, already settling in about the eyes while we were barely fifteen years old.
I had decided to drop out of school after the first semester of 10th grade. I was done. I have always struggled in math and I had a very negative experience with a certain math teacher calling me out in front of the entire class. I threw my binder across the room and stormed out. I never set foot back in his classroom for the rest of the semester. I told my mom that was it. She begged me to consider an alternative high school instead. I told her I’d try it.
This is the first significant turning point in my life. At the alternative school people stopped forcing me to do things their way. For the first time in my life the teachers presented things as a choice. Do it or don’t. If you do it, you pass. If you don’t, you fail (and have to leave the school). When finally I was given control over my own learning, I began to flourish. To engage with the material. To listen to and enjoy class lectures. To bond with my teachers and develop relationships with positive role models.
Finally, my senior year, my English teacher created a Literary Arts Magazine for our school and it was full of our creativity, our hearts, and souls. She captured what made kids like us unique. We didn’t play sports, or have pep assemblies, but we loved to create. We had felt and experienced so much at such a young age that we were dying to tell these stories. And you know what? Telling the stories took away their power over our lives. Telling the story gives me that power back. And I have never stopped trying to tell the stories that will heal my heart, save my soul, and help me to become the person I want to be in this life. One who helps others find the power and strength that they so desperately need.
I think of this as I read their journals of depression, of suicide, self-loathing, self-sabotaging, and self-medicating. I think of this when I ask them to write about happiness, of beauty, of truth. I think about this when I ask them to read about others’ painful experiences in literature and to take away a lesson, a truth about humanity with them. I think about that during our class discussions: what can we learn from each other about life, or love, or the way it is? How do we show compassion, empathy, tolerance, and love for a generation who just wants to be loved, accepted, and understood?
My solution: to write my truth and hope they’ll learn something about failing, but getting back up. To connect with them on a personal level. To inspire them, to empower them, to give them hope. To whisper through every single one of my words and actions: God (and I) love you. You matter. You belong right here, right now. I am so glad you are sitting in that seat in front of me. I believe that we are here together in this room at this time for a very specific purpose. That we will change each others’ lives. That you will do great things both in this classroom and out in the world. That you have a hope and a future.
How do I know? Because I have been there too. I have been hopeless. I have been unable to see the beauty. I have felt unloved, alone, and worthless. But now I can see beyond that. I can see the amazing things that God has in store for me, and for you. The fact that I am here in front of these students is a miracle in itself. That’s what should give them a little bit of hope. That though I have suffered, and I have hurt (both myself and others) there are no skeletons in this closet that haven’t been addressed and forgiven. There is no shame in my past or in who I am today. That I have changed so much or come so far from the person I used to be is not my own doing.
God made me into the person He had always intended me to be. Now I play a role in helping my students become the people they’re intended to be. I can show them love and acceptance in every single one of my actions, my reactions, my decisions, my life. And I know that’s why I am here. To make the mess a message. To give the hopeless hope. To help them seek and find truth in a world full of lies. To make an ugly world a little bit more beautiful.