This I Believe

Ilene - Torrance, California
Entered on October 4, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe that challenges are opportunities in work clothes. I had come to the end of my first year of teaching English to seniors and sophomores. It was the best first year of teaching and completely contrary to the horror stories of “first years” I had heard in graduate school. Just days before final grades were due, I received a blue slip from my principal, upon which was scrawled, “Please come see me in my office after school.” No money was generally part of casual dialogue and daily vernacular and despite being reassured of my job security several times in those final few months of the school year, my heart sank as I held my fate on that ink in that note. I was being transferred to the middle school. I was heartbroken and angry and spent the afternoon among heaping mounds of wadded up tissue.

The following September, as each bell rang for the next period to begin, a new motley crew of eighth graders tumbled into my room. They were loud and hyper. They were awkward and strange. As far as I was concerned they were aliens and I wanted nothing to do with them. I couldn’t stand the childish curriculum, and my sarcastic humor was lost on their immaturity. I cried every evening and painfully dragged myself to work each day. I kept a calendar near my desk and was filled with immeasurable relief as I laid down thick black slashes across the days that had passed. It was around Thanksgiving that while talking with a friend I realized I should look at this as a way to challenge myself as a teacher. The idea of a challenge stuck like the stringy pink globules of chewing gum found in the hallways of my new prison. And so during winter vacation, I made a conscious decision to make the best of my situation.

I scrapped the prescribed traditional curriculum and developed a theater unit filled with reading, writing, vocabulary and acting. I even went so far as to start a creative writing club that would culminate in a poetry reading at the end of the school year. I was alive again and the students echoed my energy. They became involved and attentive and we even found ourselves laughing together. At some point I quit crossing off completed days and just like that—the end of the school year had arrived.

Each year eighth graders were asked to nominate a faculty member to receive the “Teacher of the Year” award. Because the year had a tumultuous start, it never occurred to me that I might win the award, so when my name was called I was dumbfounded. They picked me? I was humbled and honored and immensely proud of my personal accomplishment. I had begun the year as a teacher, but in fact it was I that was the student who was educated. In my thanks I implored my students to do great things with their lives, and to always make lemonade of their lemons.