I’ve been putting off writing about my transition to teaching, mostly because I just didn’t know where to start. There have been so many changes—moving cities, starting work full time, being thrown headlong not just into teaching but into teaching high risk kids—that my head has been spinning and hasn’t really stopped since I began this adventure on July 30th.
I realized today that I needed to get something written, though. At some point it’s more important to just put fingers to keys than to have the perfect blog. And then I realized: that idea pretty much sums up my life right now. Throughout the last two months I’ve been learning, more than anything, that sometimes life hands you a season in which you just have to learn how to survive.
I mean that in the best possible sense. So much about moving to Boston and beginning my teaching job has been wonderful. I love the city of Boston, I love my new apartment and roommate (and dog!), and I love the pace of life in this city. I love the school I teach for, my fellow teachers and administration, my students, and I know I should be doing what I’m doing. And yet I also recognize that this is the hardest thing I have ever done.
Some of it is a natural exhaustion—teaching so many students every week, while creating my own curriculum, is overwhelming already. But what I wasn’t anticipating was the lack of buy in—many of my students are still unconvinced about why theater is important to them and whether or not they’re going to enjoy my class. They are pushing back, and often going into school in the morning feels like going into battle, me standing alone against 180 students. Overdramatic, of course. But an accurate summation of my feelings.
This will change. Every teacher says that the first year is the hardest, and that the first two months are the worst. Students are pushing back against all their teachers, testing boundaries, and mine are especially skeptical because this is a new program. I am confident that this will not be my teaching experience forever. Even yesterday, one of my fifth graders stopped me at dismissal and said, a big smile on his face, “Miss Snoke, I LOVE your class.”
And I’ve seen the lightbulb in some of my students’ eyes. Students who started the year combative or morose, trying their hardest to tell me with their actions that they didn’t want to be in my class will suddenly watch me with interest, raise their hand and open up about their experiences. Take a risk to stand in front of the class or play an improv game. I try to treasure these moments and recognize them, try to hold them against the weight of the feeling that I’m taking one step forward and twenty steps back.
It occurred to me just this morning that I am in the midst of a micro-metaphor for life. The unfortunate thing about the head and the heart is that no matter how clearly I know something in my head, I cannot force my heart to feel it. The unfortunate thing about going through something hard is that even if you know it will not be hard forever, you still have to do the hard thing. The effort of daily silencing the cacophony of doubts, fear, and plain old distaste is monumental, and it’s exhausting.
But that is what life is. Thank God that there are seasons of life that are less effort, but it remains true that life itself is difficult and hard and requires the reminder that it cannot and will not last forever. Just as I know these months—or perhaps this entire first year—will end, making way for something better and more beautiful, I know that this season of life is a reminder to me that what I see in this world is not the only reality present, and that I have to take it on faith that the efforts and the pain and the stickiness will eventually give way to something much better. The beauty and difficulty lies in finding the balance. I am grateful for the moments of joy, when students suddenly buy into my class, or tell me how much they like it, while always keeping in mind that the hard reality of teaching these students is not all there is. In the same way, I think we are called to fully invest and delight in the ups and downs of this life, while also remembering that this is not all we were created for.
I know in my spirit what it would be like if all of my students wanted to be in my class—if all of them were engaged, and working together, and building trust. We see pieces of what this world should be like, and it’s right to mourn the fact that we don’t see it as a reality. It’s okay to admit when something is hard, and it’s essential to recognize that we alone are not enough. But I rejoice through the difficulty because I look forward with confidence, even when all I can do is put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps that’s what I should be doing more often, because it reminds me that I am only one person. I am here not to singlehandedly change the world, but to play my part faithfully. In the good, in the bad, daily living through the grace of waiting until my head and my heart both know the joy of a reality I was created to desire.
Open and Unafraid
David O. Taylor