Avery Smith (OKC ’17) muses on what he was prepared for as a teacher, and what he learned along the way.
May 15, 2019
As part of our New Power Fellowship Program, Teach For America Oklahoma City asked corps members to share stories of impact in their journey to education advocacy.
There are things they tell you when you become a teacher, and there are things they do not tell you. I was told my first year would be the hardest year of my life. “I have done difficult things before,” I thought. “This can’t be that bad.” I was wrong. They were right. I was also told I would get better at teaching, that my second year would be categorically better than my first. I did not trust this advice. “I will never get through this year,” I thought two months in. “I am certainly going to die.” Again, I was wrong. They were (thankfully) right.
There are, however, things they do not tell you. There are more things they don’t tell you than things they do. How could they tell you?
They do not tell you about the first time a kid says you are their favorite teacher. Teaching will have been hell. You will think every kid hates you. When he tells you, your shoulders drop. This will mean more to you than any award you have ever been given. More than any test average your class has earned. You are going to be ok. They do not tell you about the first time a student is surprised by their grade. Surprised they did well. They look at their paper and their eyes widen. One of their friends sees the paper and cracks a joke. Your student says that they just got lucky and they don’t know how it happened. You can tell that deep down they are proud, that they are realizing they have what it takes. They do not tell you about the first time you give a kid the student of the week. You tell the student they won in front of the whole class. The class claps. The student starts to tear up. After class they will tell you that they have never won an award before. They are trying their hardest to act normal, to play it cool. You can see the smile in their eyes. These moments give you life and they make the struggle worth the pain. However, there are harder moments; more stories.
They don’t tell you about the first time one of your kids gets expelled. He got in a fight during lunch. A teacher tried to pull him off another student. He punched the teacher. A police officer runs up discharging a can of pepper spray and drags your student to the office. You don’t get to say goodbye. They do not tell you about the first time someone brings a gun to school. They will announce the lockdown over the intercom. You think it is a drill. Your assistant principal runs up to your door and you see her face. You realize this is very real. You sit for an hour behind a locked door in the dark before you learn that nobody was hurt and they caught the kid with the gun. For an hour you didn’t know. That night you will see your school on the news. They don’t tell you about the first time one of your kids will take their own life. She was full of life and laughter. She used to help you set up your room in the morning. You would never have guessed the struggle she was going through. You’ll be completely, utterly broken. The next day of school will be the hardest day you ever teach. Her class will be the hardest class. Life will go on, but you will not forget her. How could you?
If you want to be a teacher, I have some things to tell you. Teaching is a work of the heart. You will see more life in one year than you have in the past ten. Your soul will overflow, and it will be broken. There will be days that you go home at 3:00 and all you will be able to do is crawl into bed. You will wake up the next day, take a shower, and put on clothes. Then you will drive back to work.
Each day will be like nothing you have ever experienced. Each day will be new. There will be days that fill up your heart and there will be days that drain you to your core. Through the highs and through the lows you will see the truth in what you suspected all along. Maybe, just maybe, you have what it takes. Maybe, just maybe, this is what life is all about.