I cried in school today. Of course, I managed to walk quickly to the bathroom to sob. I didn’t want to scar my students, but most of all I didn’t want the other teachers to know.
It’s easier to journal then share aloud how I feel. It started when I was thirteen and my parents found out I had a crush. At the time, it was the dawn of rampant usage of technology among teens, so naturally my parents hacked into my Facebook account to protect their baby. They read my messages. They disapproved.
I think in retrospect they would have handled things differently, at least my mother. But my parents had a hard time accepting I was growing up and inadvertently shamed me for having feelings. Despite learning about it in health class, it would take me years to accept it was normal for the emergence of desires during puberty to wonder what it would be like to kiss a boy and dream about falling in love.
There’s a specific moment I realized I could never open up to my parents: I was twirling a sour cream and onion potato chip between my fingers contemplating whether to bite it or shove it whole in my mouth. But my mother saw me seating listlessly on the couch and demanded to know if I was thinking about boys instead of my homework. Her disapproving tone warned me my father would not tolerate “this kind of behavior”. An only child, learning that I couldn’t turn to my parents was hard. Turning to friends was no better; enduring teasing and smoochy faces was not what I wanted. Liking a boy suddenly became a weakness and it wasn’t long before caring in general made me too vulnerable. I did the worst thing possible: I bottled up.
That’s truly when loner girl cemented. Before then I was just a shy but friendly girl. By the end of middle school, I was eager to be ignited too ready to spit fire. All the sadness was masked by arrogant pride and anger. No one saw me cry.
Except the bathroom mirror. The bathrooms change, but mirrors always show the same broken girl with red eyes. When I saw her today, I curled up in a corner stall. In high school, when I felt like I wasn’t connecting with my peers I would eat my lunch in a bathroom stall. Even at 22, I felt like I was 15 unable to do anything right and saw no point in making the effort.
Today it was because of guided reading. A tricky subject to teach to begin with, preparing myself with texts, videos and following my lesson plans to the exact detail had been benefiting me for the past few weeks. I was beginning to get in the groove of teaching pre-reading concepts to my scholars such as reading left to right and one word gets one tap while reading. Then this week I started using pattern books so the scholars could recognize the same words at the end (I read all by myself. I play all by myself. I clean all by myself) and attempt beginning to read by themselves.
It was a disaster. Naturally so, it was only their third time trying to read by themselves. Some of them managed to repeat “all by myself” on every page but could not identify the patterns. Others said “all my self” or tapped “myself” twice – which is also understandable as by and my sound similar and they are familiar with my as one word. But the rush to make the scholars learn in the twenty minutes before the next group and the looming literacy exam in four weeks, the scores of which would be used to evaluate my functioning as a teacher, made the bud of determined focus bloom into overwhelmed frustration. I pointed at the words, I repeated the words, I told them the pattern. As my scholars’ confused faces did not change, I felt my joy slipping as I wondered aloud if I was speaking in Mandarin.
The clock ticked 11:59 AM and it was time to transition to the cafeteria. I let Ella handle it as I escaped to the bathroom, the only place I could hide for a few minutes. My sobs shaky, I was grateful no one walked in. My mind scrambled to think of any other job I could if I quit teaching. I was unhappy. But I had to keep up with the schedule, so I gathered myself up enough to heat up my lunch in the staff workroom not making eye contact with anyone. Ella noticed and waited until we were alone in our classroom to ask me what was wrong.
I didn’t want to tell her. But I knew I had to talk to someone. Crumbling, I admitted how I felt like an awful teacher. She assured me that it was normal, guided reading was always a hot mess when new concepts were presented to the kids. “There is no perfect way to teach guided reading, but we can all work to get better at it. Don’t worry, four weeks is plenty of time for them to learn.”
The weight still has not lifted. Baby-sitting kids is not the same as teaching kids. There are goals set by the state that need to be met, a result that shows mental growth. When it’s so easy for me to cave into thinking about quitting, I know my students feel the same way with bigger books and activity challenges.
More than anything, I want to teach them to conquer that. I may have cried, but I got up knowing I had a job to do. It’s grit I want to share with my scholars in accompaniment with knowledge, but I do believe grit and curiosity go hand in hand. When my scholars grow up, I want them to be able to open up and talk about their feelings. I want them to know it’s okay to admit their weaknesses and make goals to work on them. I still have more work to do to be the best version of myself. I want my scholars to be better than me. Guided reading can stay rocky; if I can impart some emotional intelligence wisdom upon them I will know I have made a small difference.