Back to Life, Back to Reality
I'll be the first to acknowledge how lucky I am that I have two full weeks at home with my family during the holidays. The break is well deserved, and it's one of the perks of being a teacher. Still, I feel the butterflies in my stomach, like I do every September and January before going back to school. I feel a mix of excitement and dread. I'm excited to start the new year and see how my students are doing. I dread only seeing my children for a few hours each day, rushing out of the house in the morning, making lunches, etc.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at a coffee shop to get all my marking done. I was looking forward to the quiet alone time, but not to the correcting. Then I was pleasantly surprised and remembered that I enjoy reading my students' work when it is about themselves.
They had to create a mask made from construction paper. On the outside they wrote/drew the things they portray to others. On the inside, they put their worries, insecurities, or anything their mask is hiding. They were then asked to write and explain their choices. This is part of our What's Behind my Mask project we are working on. The results were incredible. My students were honest about their insecurities, and how they hide them. I know a lot of my students have difficult home lives. I don't always know the details, but it is clear on their faces. Sometimes they talk about it, but mostly they don't. They especially don't articulate how it makes them feel. This assignment was given sort of last minute, I'll admit, while I was home with my sick son, so I did not watch them complet the masks. I just took them home and didn't look at them until yesterday. I was happy to be in a public place, because at home, I would have started bawling. Not just because what they wrote was sad or touching, but because I realized they were trusting me with their thoughts and feelings and allowing themselves to be vulnerable.
Do you remember being fifteen? I do. Opening up about how you feel about your fears, insecurities, feeling judged, your family, that's hard stuff to share with anyone, especially your English teacher. One student whom I've taught since last year has always been a closed book. I know things are tough for this person, and they have never opened up about it, and I never prodded. But their writing about how they slap on a smile so others don't ask how this person feels, so they don't have to lie about what their real life is like, because no one would understand. That made me feel sad, of course, and protective, but also privileged to have read my student's feelings. My student chose to share that with me. Some days I teach English. Other times, I learn more than I teach. Grammar and responses to literature are a drag, I know. But when I get to read or talk about who they are, that's the good stuff. That is when they can most show off their writing skills, which is usually a struggle for most students.
So, to answer the question I know my students will ask me come Monday: Yes, I am looking forward to seeing them again. Frustrating, exhausting, and emotionally draining as it may be, I do enjoy it. But, for the next two days: