As I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before, my first year as a teacher was not stellar, which is why it took me a decade to work up the nerve to try a second year.
I’ve often wondered how much faster I would have found my way back to the classroom if I’d recognized important breakthroughs when they were happening.
One of my favorite examples of this — and it’s one I had forgotten until a friend posted a Facebook link this evening that jogged my memory — was the kid who decided, about three weeks into the school year, that instead of being called “Ms. Priddy,” I should henceforth be known as “Master P.”
Can you imagine? Here I was, a skinny, stuffy, awkward, prim-and-proper, clueless 22-year-old from Southern Illinois, trying to teach proper English grammar to a roomful of hip, urban teenagers in the toughest part of North St. Louis County. I could not have been a bigger dork if I had held a focus group meeting to come up with strategies for maximizing my dorkiness. I had exactly nothing in common with Master P, which of course is exactly why Steve’s friends immediately latched onto the moniker, and within days, half of my students refused to call me by any other name.
At the time, I had just enough presence of mind to realize that while my kids were making fun of me, they were doing it in a good-natured way, and the fact that they’d given me an incongruous but affectionate nickname was probably a positive sign.
What I didn’t realize was how positive it was or how important it was. Had I known, my life might have taken a very different path. I’m not sorry things worked out the way they did — after all, subsequent events led me to Ron, to Route 66, to Tulsa, and ultimately to the wonderful kids I work with now — but I’m sorry I wasted ten years feeling like a failure when, in point of fact, I was anything but.
If I could, I would reach back across the years, put my arms around my 22-year-old self, and whisper, “Swweetheart, don’t you see? Your kids love you. Just listen to them, love them back, and let them teach you what they need you to learn. Trust them, and trust yourself. You’re on the right track.”
Stay tuned. I can’t reach across 15 years to reassure a younger version of myself, but I’m working on a project that just might be the next best thing. When I’m ready to unveil it, you’ll be among the first to know.