In my previous post I remarked that during my interview it was the first time that I had worked with a different group of students in a formal teaching setting. I said that as I turned around from the white board "I saw a group of students that were very different from the ones that I interact with every day." I would like to explain what I meant by this. What I really meant is that kids are really all just the same.
When I tell people that I have work in the morning, people are often like "Oh right, I forgot, what's it like? It must be crazy right?" Seeing how many of my friends are still attending undergrad and don't have to wake up before nine or ten, I get this a lot. I always say no its great, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, my kids are fun and it is always an adventure. However, reassuring and excited I am when I talk about school and my students, some of my friends still do not understand. And it is in this confusion that I am reminded of the many tensions that are still very much alive in our society. I work in a school, in a hallway, in a classroom where the majority of the students are black and the majority of the teachers are white. People always ask me what the students think about being taught by a "blonde white girl" and how that feels for me. What I have learned over the last several months is that they don't care, it does not matter to them, and it isn't about that. The students just want someone who is nice and cares about them. I truly believe that the color of my skin is not even something that they notice any more, it certainly is not something that I notice any more. At least not until I turned around in the front of that classroom during my interview.
I was not nervous until the second I turned around and the starkness hit me, it was not anything about the kids, but it was instant, like a reaction long ingrained in my mind, and it took me a minute or two to shake myself out of it. I think I became afraid that the students were looking down on me and were judging me because of where I have come from, where my teaching had come from. I was racked with fear and hesitation as I doubted my lesson plan, how I doubted that they would like it , how I doubted that they would learn anything from it. I turned back to the board and cleared my mind. I knew that they would, I knew that it was good, I knew that I had to remind myself of this. I said to myself, you made this because it was fun for kids, because it was empowering, because it is about giving a voice to those who maybe don't or aren't confident enough in themselves to share that voice and about giving the kids who are confident a chance to share with others and help them grow. I calmed down. I turned back and got back my own voice as I remembered that they are all just kids, kids with stories and lives and things they want to be. The lesson was a success, the students felt like they had been treated like adults, and they created some beautiful and though provoking similes, just as I had planned.
Now that I think back to this experience, I have come to realise several things. Because of where I teach, I feel as though I have taken on much of the identity of my students. I was afraid that the way I talk to kids or the way I joke with them would be wrong or inappropriate, but it isn't. I talk to them all the same. I work with smart kids, I treat them like adults, I have expectations for them, and I want them to have fun. This is something that never changes. And the kids don't change. They all have different experiences that make them who they are as individuals, but as a group they are all the same, just kids, trying to make a living in a world they don't understand.
The other question that I have been asked a lot lately is if "Do you feel that I am prepared to teach next year in a private/public school setting?" depending on who is asking the question. My answer is earnestly yes. Because every time this question is asked I know what the asker really means is "Do you feel prepared to teach kids next year?" they just might not always know that is what they mean. Kids are kids, race, social, economic, gender, ability all aside. When you are there with them, none of those things matter, yes they have an impact, but inside that room is a place where they can just be kids and can explore and share all those other things together. That is the place I want to be, be the same, learn the same, change the same, all in their own way.
Today was class picture day. I don't think there are many things that could ever have made me as happy as that moment of a few quick shutter clicks. It meant everything in a way. My first class, my first kids, and me, all together, a group that will impact me every day for the rest of my teaching experience, that has shared so much, and taught me to always remember that kids are kids, all the same.