I remember walking into my very first classroom as a student intern. It was in a local inner-city school system that was about 30 minutes away from my house. It was close in location but it was in a whole different world than what I grew up in. Where I attended a suburban school district, this system experiences large amounts of poverty, violence, and drug use. I was a freshman in college and was taking a class that was a introduction course to teaching. A large aspect of that class was a simple 50 hour internship in a neighboring school system.
I was a bright eyed college student who had an ideological view of teaching. I honestly wasn’t that different than any other kid that was excited to get into a school and “make a difference”. We were placed in one of the district’s middle schools that had the highest level of poverty. Not only that, but it was an ESL level 1 school which means that there was a high percentage of children that immigrated to America and possessed minimal English capabilities. I remember walking into the principals office with my fellow interns to talk with the principal. The seven of us walked in and sat down and where the principal sat and welcomed us to take a seat. He talked for a while but I remember what he said before we left. He sheepishly told us “if you can teach here then you can teach anywhere”.
I was stationed in an 8th grade Civics and Economics class where I worked with a “veteran” teacher of 5 years. (Only in teaching is 5 years considered to be a veteran but that is another post for another day). I walked in nervous but excited only to find the room in complete chaos. Papers were lying all over the floor, kids were screaming, and the teacher looked completely defeated. We talked for a bit and he told me to help anyone who needed it in the room. I walked around the room and tried to talk to the kids but they looked at me like I was an outsider. There seemed to be a barrier that every kid had and wouldn’t let me; but who could blame them? I would begin to hear their stories and was told of the hardships that all these kids went through. I felt like an outsider because I was an outsider.
At the end of the day I felt completely exhausted. That kind of exhausted that goes beyond the physical and wipes you out mentally and emotionally. I had been told F*&$% you to my face twice throughout the day and when I went to the teacher he wearily shrugged and said “that’s how they are and I’ve tried”. Not only that but there were constant disputes that erupted between students which resulted in screaming matches and a couple of objects thrown at one another. I felt like I had failed and wondered if teaching was really worth it? I felt defeated and it was only the first day!!! But I decided to stick it out at least until see it through to the end.
The next week I walked into the room to find a substitute was there instead of the regular teacher. This was not out of the ordinary because the regular teacher had been sporadically missing. I walked up to the sub and the sub proceeded to tell me that Mr.______________was not coming back because he had suffered a nervous breakdown and that his “intern” had a decent grasp on the class so he could lead a majority of classroom activities. There I was, 18 years old teaching kids only five years younger than me after the regular “veteran” teacher who was supposed to be my mentor had a nervous breakdown. You can perhaps understand why I almost had a nervous breakdown myself when I found this out and wanted to make a run for the door.
I would love to tell you that the next three weeks until I finished my internship went smooth and it was like the movie Dangerous Minds where I connected to all of my students and we all lived happily ever after. (By the way I would highly recommend the movie Dangerous Minds and is a must watch for teachers). In reality, it was a whirlwind of an experience where very few things ever went right. Lessons weren’t completed, homework wasn’t turned in, and it seemed like everything that was done was met with roadblocks. Now I never once blamed the kids during this time. It wasn’t their fault that they were in a horrible position at school and at home. To top it all off they had a clueless college Freshman try to teach them government.
Throughout all of this, the memory that I have of this experience wasn’t the implosions in the classroom or the way that I was talked to by 13/14 year olds. What I remember the most was in the last week of my internship we were going over the different court levels in which someone could appeal a court decision. Yes I know that sounds extremely fascinating and learning the levels of courts is one of the many reasons why I loathe teaching civics and economics particularly at that age. I remember this one little girl who was sitting at her desk who seemed to be struggling with what we were learning. To be honest everyone was struggling but no one else seemed like they wanted any help because for some reason schools feel like we should teach the complexities of government and economics to kids who are three years from working a job and five years from ever voting. I walked over and crouched next to her and slowly but surely we worked through it together. Before I got up to walk to another desk, I patted her on the back and told her how good she did and how I proud I was of her. What happened next changed my whole perspective on teaching. She looked up at me with the biggest smile and she said “thank you Mr. B for taking the time to help me”.
After all of the stress and all of the hardships I had endured teaching had melted away and all I could think about was this little girl who received a simple compliment acted like she had received the Nobel Peace Prize. It was obvious to me that perhaps that was the first time someone said they were “proud of her”. My heart melted and honestly wanted to take her home with me. I reached a moment of clarity that although we teach because we love the content we teach; we teach for kids and to be their support and sometimes be the only person in their life that gives them a positive experience.
When I finally left my internship for the last time, I felt a mixture of feelings. I first thought, is this how all schools are? Teachings getting burned out and having very little support where they feel completely alone. I also knew that teachers receive very little pay and wondered if it was worth the money that you got for the countless extra hours you put in without overtime pay. Despite these thoughts, the thought of the one girl that I helped stuck in my mind and cemented what I wanted to do. Although that experience was not an ideal one, I wouldn’t take it back for anything because it made me the teacher and man I am today!
Homework: Think about a time in your life where you felt very overwhelmed and comment below! To my teacher friends out there! Have you felt overwhelmed like that in a classroom?
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