FIVE years ago, at this time, I had recently accepted a job at a place called the Kimberly Center.
I was unsure of my decision. I had applied for jobs in various parts of Eastern/Central Iowa, knowing I didn’t want to move too incredibly far away from my parents (Iowa City) and sister (Davenport), but mostly just wanting a job. A classroom to teach in, finally.
I had been offered positions at a few other schools. I had laid awake on sleepless nights trying to decide, talked to my mom, my best friends, my cooperating teacher for student teaching. I had to decide: middle school? Freshmen at a big high school? Various 9-12 in a small town? Or, this “alternative school”.
I don’t think anyone else’s first choice for me was the alternative school (besides the principal who wanted to hire me). People told me it sounded really challenging, the words “scary” and “dangerous” were used. But I’ve always had a stubborn streak, and so I think in the end I chose it mostly to prove I could.
Fast forward to my first day of school – my first month, my first year even. There were so many sleepless nights. I was so overwhelmed. Also, I was terrible at asking for help. Poor Heather would come to my classroom after school and ask if I needed anything, I would say no, she would leave with a kind reminder that I could always ask her, and then I would go home and cry. I just didn’t know what I was doing, plain and simple.
My students had been through so much that I didn’t even know existed when I was their age. It took me most of that first year to really understand how their priorities worked and to shift from a whole ton of sympathy (feeling sorry for them and for myself) to true empathy.
In the past five years, I have learned more than I did in the 22 years that came before them. I have grown as a person into someone that I am really, truly proud of being.
In this school, now Mid City, I have found another home. I have found a family. I have found so, so much more than I ever thought I would walking through the doors for the first time five years ago.
My coworkers have become good friends – friends who get me and my band obsessions, my outrage at sexism in the sports world, my need for time away from people, my need for data and information. We have theme days and staff socials that turn into karaoke nights and we have endless, endless inside jokes.
My administration treats me with respect and importance – they make me feel like I am an expert in math education and take my input on changes and ideas. I know I can approach them if I disagree with something, or if I have an idea.
My students. Man, my students. I went from not understanding them at all, and having different goals for them than they did for themselves, to truly trying to work together to reach for whatever they think success looks like for them.
In the past five years, they have made me laugh every single day. From the things you can see browsing #thingsstudentssay on my twitter to more complicated and subtle inside jokes with different class periods.
They have made me cry, for all different reasons. Because they frustrate me. Because I hurt for them. Because they’ve lost loved ones or we have lost part of our Maverick Family. Because I am so incredibly, wonderfully proud of them.
They’ve done math that I know they never believed they could. Statements have come out of their mouth like, “putting quadratics in vertex form is fun!” and “I tried the challenge problem, got out Desmos and put some things in, played around with it for awhile, and I couldn’t get the y-intercepts to match. But can we talk about it later? Because I still want to know how it works.” – statements that they probably wouldn’t have known what they meant when the school year started, and if they had, would have laughed at someone else saying them. They’ve graphed quadratics by hand, gone from not understanding division to being able to complete the square (a certain student’s literal growth from this year), written paragraphs using statistics to compare athletes, won our school’s bracket competition using statistical analysis, and so much more.
They celebrate when we reach page 100 of our interactive notebooks. They take home papers with stickers to show their moms. 4 of my 5 class periods have said they want to do extra dot talks on the last day of school because they didn’t want this week to be their last Mental Math Monday of the year. They form identification with their Hogwarts Houses and do puzzles and challenges and put away my calculators and plug in my chromebooks to earn points for their House.
We’re a family. They’re my people. Some of them call me Mom and bring me dandelions, or cookies, or whatever they make in foods class. They find me in the morning to say good morning, in the halls to say they miss my class from last year. They ask what I’m teaching next year and if they can take that class. They tell me about crushes, girlfriends, boyfriends, breakups, nieces, nephews, college acceptances, trips, concerts, and more.
They push me to be better every single day. A better person and a better teacher. They aren’t scared to let me know when I slip into lowering expectations. They don’t listen to my instructions but they notice when I get frustrated about repeating them fifteen times after they start working. They ask how my day is going and they truly listen to my answer – way more than adults in my life do.
And they GRADUATE, something many of them never saw in their futures, they GRADUATE and they walk across that stage and then they become facebook friends and I watch them continue to learn and grow and say such heartfelt things about my classroom.
I have grown obsessed with the mathematicians from the Hidden Figures story in the past two years. My mom recently brought me an interview with Katherine Johnson from the paper. The entire thing resonated with me so strongly, but one line in particular stood out. She said, when asked about all the trials and everything she went through during her time at the space program, “I believed I was where I was supposed to be.”
I have days when I wake up and my first thought is “ugh, no, back to bed”. I have days where I still go home and cry from frustration or failure. There are days when I don’t think I can deal with a particular student anymore. “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is a LIE, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. I work SO hard, many times harder than I should, because I care so much. It’s so hard to be a teacher, and even harder to work with at risk students. I still love my job. It’s not just a place to go to get paid. It fulfills me and brings purpose and joy and heart to my life.
Five years have passed since I graduated college and accepted this job. Five years of making my classroom my own. Five years of joy, and pain, heartache and pride and laughter and learning and math.
Five years later, I believe I am where I am supposed to be. Here, at Mid City.