Thursday, November 3, 2011

perception versus reality

It took awhile for me to get hired at my school partly because it was intentionally small and thus had a smaller budget in the district. But it also took awhile because I was the only substitute teacher who would willingly (eagerly, lovingly) take jobs there whenever they called. When my principal pointed out this fact after I once again begged (in an entirely professional way of course) for a classroom of my own, I was taken aback. What teacher takes him or herself seriously as an educator yet refuses to work with a particular group of kids?

Intellectually, I can understand how the general public might think that an alternative high school attracts disrespectful slackers. I can even understand that some people might be concerned that the halls of such a place are filled with juvenile delinquents. It is an easy trap to fall into because why wouldn't a kid be able to just make it through regular high school? How hard can it be to just go, do, graduate? Those of us who have made it out of adolescence and are now comfortably ensconced in the routine of our Grown-Up lifestyle filled with more significant issues than who is wearing what when and ohmyGodWHY tend to forget how hard all of that feels in the grand scheme of Nothing Else to Worry About. I get it.

But TEACHERS holding these anxious attitudes? It stuns me every time. Every time I mention to another teacher in our district where I work and see tension in a jaw or a raised eyebrow or, from the bold, hear a sniff before "Really? How do you like it THERE?" as if I've been sentenced to our school as punishment. Stunned. And supremely sad. They are missing something special.

I love our school. Sometimes we do have disrespectful slackers [though most people refer to them as 'typical teenagers']; sometimes we have juveniles who qualify as delinquent. But what we have 100% of the time are young people who are trying to make their way in the world around a variety of obstacles that spring up at any given moment. They might struggle with schoolwork and they might out-genius most of the teachers; they could be stunning artists or breathtaking musicians or cunning scientists or simply open, eager minds. Perhaps they have authority issues but they might also be waiting for an adult to treat them with respect. Many have little or no support in their homes (if they have homes), but handfuls do come in with concerned and loving families who will do whatever they can to help us help them.

Regardless of their circumstances, they are children and we are teachers; our job is to show love even when it feels difficult and offer assistance even when we're not sure what they need.

I am proud of our kids - whether graduation comes after five years instead of four, whether they end up finishing with us or not, whether they go to college or enter the military or get jobs & start families; no matter in what order they decide to do any of these things. They have chosen us, our school, for awhile, and we are honored.