“You gotta get gruff, be gritty,” said the teacher doing morning supervision outside her classroom while the students began arriving at school, continuing conversations they were having on the bus, with the added voices of those they see on their way up the stairs to the 300 hallway.
This was the first day of my teaching career. I was teaching a 6th grade Science and Social Studies class at a middle school in a district that is in between the inner-city and the suburbs.
I remember stopping at a 7-11 to get TUMS because my stomach was so upset – I was nervous – I also never eat TUMS. All the district trainings the weeks prior could do nothing to prepare me for that first day. Sitting in those meetings, talking about teaching standards, management practices, health insurance from the district, all I wanted to do was to just get at it. I knew I would learn as I went.
As the students slowly trickled in, I made sure to greet each one of them. I had no idea who would be angels, and who would test the limits of a teacher’s, or really a human’s, patience.
The teachers on my team told me that you could predict how good the year would be based on how many students bring in the required tissue box for the class.
A good year could be represented by as many as 80% of the students bringing tissue in, and a bad year represented by just a handful. These kids brought in just a handful. I made the mistake of telling the students they could sit where they wanted as they came in.
The first bell rang, and I closed the door behind me and walked in. It was a surreal feeling. 20 something pairs of eyes looking at me, waiting for me to do or say something. I can’t remember what exactly I did, but I somehow got through that first day – so elated when it was finally over.
Looking back, it’s hard to remember the flow of events. I can recall heart-pounding instances, and reflect on success and failures but I believe the only way to give an accurate account of what happened is to bring to light those flashbacks, those unforgettable moments of humanity at its most raw and beautiful form.
I think that there are certain segments of the population that get to see how people truly are; their best, their worst – their most primal. This segment includes teachers, nurses and doctors, police officers, combat-veterans, social workers, emergency workers (EMTs, Firefighters), and prison guards. I know I’m leaving some jobs out – forgive me. What we, what I have seen, is truly remarkable.