I student teach at a public high school off the mountain, and I love it to bits. Today was quite an experience, though. I arrived in the classroom and, lo and behold, there was no one but a substitute teacher who didn't know what was going on. But he knew I'd been a part of the class before so he put me in charge.
I essentially had to wrangle eleventh graders on my own, work on vocab with them, and then give an impromptu lesson on romanticism and Gothic imagery. For the second half of the class, we watched parts of the film The Raven based off the works of Edgar Allen Poe. That movie is horrifyingly gory and I don't know why they're allowed to watch it in class, but I was just glad I didn't have to sustain an entire class with no preparation.
I didn’t expect to love the students as much as I do, and I did not expect to dread the end of the semester. But there’s a lot of sadness to the journey, though I suppose that’s what makes the triumphs so beautiful. When a troubled kid looks at you with respect and learns something from you, and maybe even likes you as a person, there’s a feeling of joy for which you can really only thank God.
This high school needs Jesus and a deeper level of grace in the classroom. The students are not being given what they need and it does break my heart. I would love to have a deeper investment in their lives than I’m able to have in this semester, and I’m hoping that when I become a teacher, I’ll be able to reach that point in my own classroom.
At this school, I can walk through the door and feel the brokenness. If I get there before the first bell, I can watch all the students milling about as I weave through them to get to my class. There’s a pervasive smell of stale cigarettes and an air of tiredness and some apathy, but overall I can just feel the need for something bigger than what they’re aiming for. Something bigger than a tepid forcing of knowledge into brains with little thought given to hearts and souls.
I see clearly that the public school system is awash with bad habits and a general complacency. The teacher I work with asked the students if they knew where a fellow student was. They all said he got kicked out, because he got “locked up” and if you go to jail you’re automatically out. She responded with a simple “Oh, what a shame. I liked him.” And that was the end of it. That little instance shattered many illusions about the career path that I want to pursue, but instead of scaring me away, it made me take it more seriously.
My desire to be a light to these students has increased and I know that I just want to be the kind of teacher who can administer a love for English while also delivering an emphasis on the Gospel even in a public school classroom.
There’s a lot of damage done in the public school system that can’t be unraveled by singular teachers. But, somehow, I still feel that the only way to reverse the cycle without major government intervention is to make sure that we have teachers who are bringing the gospel, or even just some common grace, into the classroom, even when they can’t explicitly share it with the students during school hours.
In my experience, the students I teach are fairly unruly and they need a lot of attention in order to succeed. Some of them are special needs students and others are simply difficult or have attitudes that don’t lend to good study habits or successful learning. However, I also see a lot of intelligence and sweetness. I see kids who often are trying to do the right thing but are foiled by their surroundings. I see a boy who tries to be the alpha dog and objectify women, when really he’s hiding the fact that he can do all the work put in front of him without batting an eyelash at the difficulty. I see a girl who shouts out the answer to every question in class, when really, she doesn’t want people to know that she doesn’t test very well.
But I’ve seen the grade books. I’ve marked up the tests. And I’ve interacted with the kids and tried to love them as best I can.
So how do you light up darkness like that?