Unforeseen Reality

An obvious epiphany occurred early in my first year of teaching: I am not going to be the teacher I thought I was going to be.

 

The teacher I envisioned myself becoming never materialized. Over years, I had described, in countless conversations, this aspirational figure that I thought would break the teachers’  mold. Indeed, like Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls, I was going to be a “cool [teacher]”, not a “regular [teacher].”

 

I wanted to be friends with the kids; I wanted them to like my classroom.

 

“Kids, I like the Diamondbacks…I like Dutch Bros….I went to the football game on Friday….I watched the MTV Movie Awards last night….Facebook is for old people, Snapchat is where it’s at….I know what Fortnite is! I’m so cool, and I am just like you!”

 

“Wow,” they’d say, “Mr. King is the coolest!”

 

Now that I have their trust as a pseudo-peer, we can conquer issues of racism, sexism, and classism in To Kill A Mockingbird. They can digest this material better because we’re buddies, right?

 

I cannot point to an exact moment of my epiphany. Maybe, instead, it was gradual, but it did occur fairly early into the school year. I tightened the reins, enforced rules, held students accountable, and, in general,  let go of the notion that I am “cool.” Rather, I focused on what my students needed. They required a competent subject matter expert. Students needed a cheerleader and, sometimes, a counselor. Teenagers want someone to quiet the chaos. Teaching students to respect the classroom, each other, and themselves became my new priority. If my strictness, rigor, and high expectations made me less “cool,” so be it.

 

At the end of the year, I was proud of my students’ scores on district tests and happy with how students performed in my class in general. I knew that I had prepared the majority of my students for their next year of English Language Arts. I may not have been the teacher I wanted to be, but I was the teacher my students needed.

 

I thought my own lesson ended there, but I am pleased to report there was more for me to learn.

 

The beginning of my second year brought a new wave down on me I really was not expecting. Student council was putting on a breakfast for teachers, and when I walked in a student from last year ran to me to give me a hug and inquired about what books I had read over the summer and told me what she read. In the first week back, I lost count of former students who came to my room to say hi to me. Two other teachers on campus messaged me to let me know multiple students wrote about me in preliminary writing assignments, discussing how helpful they found me. When I chaperoned the first dance, I was overwhelmed by how many students greeted me with smiles and high fives. The enthusiasm for seeing me was so sweet, and it warmed my heart. After 3 weeks, I continue to run into students from last year who are seemingly excited to say hello to me, and students yell, with emphatic waves and grins, across breezeways at me.

 

Teenagers seem to appreciate adults that care. They respect earnest guidance. Maybe that’s what makes me a “cool” teacher after all.

 

If you are a classroom teacher, how are you different now than before you entered the classroom? What things did you learn in your first years that took you by surprise?

 

 

James King

My favorite words are “dapper” and “adventure.” With an unkempt proclivity, I manage to exemplify only one of these words into my classroom every day. The reason I chose English is simple: adventure lives in books. I get to take students wading into the Mediterranean, strolling along the Mississippi, or hiking the Himalayas without leaving their desks.

I teach at my alma mater, after using 12 years to explore the world – beyond the verse, poetry, and prose I adore. I spent time traveling Central, and North America, The Caribbean, and Europe. I worked at Walt Disney World for many years, ultimately overseeing training for 50,000 employees. Entertaining and serving guests from all around the world, I also trained and managed international employees.

I was a substitute teacher in the nation’s third-largest school district for 4 years and graduated from the University of Central Florida. My education degree emphasized English, Communication, and Commerce; this assisted me in obtaining English Language Arts and Career and Technical teaching certifications here in Arizona.

Aside from grading, reading, tweeting (@PhxJayKing), and blogging, I also sponsor a surprising popular Book Club on campus, and you might find me playing sand volleyball any given night of the week.

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