A few weeks ago, I hit my breaking point. I came home from school so completely overwhelmed that I couldn’t handle it. I stripped off my school clothes and crawled under the covers of my bed where I sobbed for a good half hour. I was feeling useless, in my school and in my community. I was sick of people and myself, and all I wanted in that moment was to catch the next plane home and forget this commitment I had made. An accreditation team had converged upon our school and all the teachers were being monitored for results- so the day people were in my room, I had a group of students behave so badly, I was embarrassed. It was almost as if they had intentionally set out to misbehave as much as possible. I later found out from other teachers that they did. But, it hurt to see students so disrespectfully disregard their classmates, and myself in order to make a mockery of something. Additionally, I came in to my room that morning to see that our classroom turtle had died overnight, and I had to clean that up before the students came in and saw. So, I have a bunch of students upset over our turtle, I have the pressure of being monitored, and I have a group of students that are playing jump rope with my last nerve.
Luckily, I have friends who drag me out of my room and up the road to Denny’s to get milkshakes and vent about everything. Nothing becomes sacred over Oreo crumble mudslides- I am tired, I am overwhelmed, I am frustrated. I think to myself- I say out loud to them- this is NOT what I signed up for. Sometimes, I think that is becoming the mantra of my year here, and I refuse to let that happen. I am trying to change my perspectives on many things- and that perhaps, is the most difficult thing about this year. I am still trying to find out who I am, and what my purpose is, and sometimes it gets too clouded over with what I think should happen, or what I want to happen.
Maybe this is what I signed up for. I realize that nothing could have really prepared me for what I was going to encounter this year. I got caught up in the good points of service, so much so that I forgot that there were going to be rough spots as well. But, I am coming to learn that it is okay to have second thoughts about what I am doing. That it is okay to think sometimes that someone better could have come, should have come. What I am slowly realizing though, is that in this moment, right here and right now, I AM the person who should have come, and I am the person who needed to stay through this year. No, it’s not always easy. No, I am not always treated the way I should be treated. But, it’s okay.
I am glad that it cost over $700 to get a plane ticket from Albuquerque to Philadelphia. Because I sat down, swallowed my heart and told myself to suck it up. I realized that there are 30 students every day that look up to me, who come into my classroom expecting to learn and needing me to be there for them. I have 23 seniors who are going to graduate in a month that are starting to freak out at the reality of it. I am glad that I can be there to reassure them that life will go on, and that they will be successful. I realized that for every time I’ve wanted to cry there have been five times where I have actually laughed out loud.
The joys of teaching are not seeing what they’ve learned about government (although a plus!)- it’s about seeing what they’ve learned about themselves. I have a rough, tough, burly senior boy who sat in my classroom for an hour after school one day because he wanted to talk to me. He’s been at the same school since he was in kindergarten and doesn’t know what he’s going to do after May. All his fears weren’t alleviated in one talk, but he was able to leave feeling like he could do something more- that he could be successful somewhere outside the walls of this school. I have a student who was given a full ride to Stanford, and I saw all her classmates excited, happy for her. As the school year is starting to wind down, I see daily acclamations for our students, who are preparing to move on to bigger and better things. I think to myself- where did the time go? Last week was just September! I was just struggling to remember all their names and what time the bell rang for each period.
I tell them stories to make them laugh- I tell them about how I tripped up the stage at my own high school graduation, so be glad that their class is only 23, and not 260. Or to be thankful that the stage is firmly in place, and not hastily constructed from under the gym bleachers. Gaps on the stairs, I tell them, are not high heel friendly. I tease them and tell them that the dress I am wearing to chaperone their prom is going to be fancier than theirs. It’s not, and we all know it, but it is still funny. I tell them how the first two months of my first semester in college I wanted to be a pre-med student. They look around at the room I’ve decorated with social studies objects, and laugh. I join them, and tell them that it was for the best I changed my career path. They laugh harder when I tell them my kindergarten job description involved me being the first female president, presiding over the moon.
I leaned against the white board one day, arms crossed as I watched my seniors in two groups working on a research project. They are competing in mock congress soon and are finding evidence to support their side. They are intent, hunched over computers, running back and forth checking their claims. I start to laugh because they start trash talking each other, and I wonder if this is what it looks like in Washington. “Hey, hey, Con side! You guys are going DOWN!” They get a reprieve from their usual khaki uniform to wear business attire to argue with each other.
I realize that this is what matters most this year. It’s not the bad moments that I will allow to shape my memories of time on the Reservation- it’s the times that my kids hi-five me as I walk down the hallway; when they leave me funny notes on the whiteboard; when they bring me a brownie in the morning and shyly tell me that they made them last night-but shhhh, don’t tell the other guys! It’s not when one of my athletes quits suddenly- it’s when one of them beats a personal record and walks away from the meet with his head held high and high fives the other athletes from other schools because they’ve done better. It’s seeing that my kids are growing and maturing every day and the fact that I know that they all have potential to be someone great- they already are.
I am preparing to take the next step in my life- and what is daunting about that is that I am still unsure of what that step is going to be- or where it might lead me. Proverbially-it might lead me off a cliff, or straight into the arms of the perfect placement for me. Who knows? The year I have learned to rely on people outside of myself- to make myself open to pain in order to learn and grow from it. I have friends and family who I have become closer to, in part because physical distant is so hard to embrace. And most of all, although there might be days where I hide under my covers, I need to remember that if I hid my head, I will never see if the sun is shining. And out here, it usually is.