Thursday, December 11, 2014

Being a Teacher.

This week has been quite a week at work. It's challenged me and it's made me so grateful to be in the profession I am in. I love my job. I've said it time and time again. I am one of those lucky people that always knew what I wanted to be. And that's being an educator. Working day in and day out with some amazing students who continue to inspire me and confirm that I'm doing exactly what I was a meant to do. I can't imagine having any other job. 

Now, before I continue, I need to make a disclaimer. I am in NO WAY writing this post today to toot my own horn, to make myself seem like some almighty human being, to be self-righteous. And if you think otherwise, than I suggest you don't read any further for you will only become angry and annoyed (haha!). You should know, I'm writing this today because I experienced something I want to remember. Because when I started this blog, I started it for me. So that I would have a place to write down my thoughts and experiences, to look back and see how I've grown and remember the things I've had the joy of doing. And that's why I'm writing this post today. 

At our school, the students in grade 10 take part in an english speech competition. This year, four of my students were of the five chosen to represent our school in the competition. For almost two months now, the students have been writing, rehearsing, and practicing their pronunciation in anticipation for the competition. Some of them have been coming to see me twice a week for extra help on their speech. It's easy to say that they have been working diligently and meticulously. They were motivated. 

Tonight was the competition. I was so proud of them as they stood up there and did their speeches. They listened to my advice, were poised and spoke so eloquently! As a teacher, I've honestly NEVER felt so proud. In the end, two of my students tied for third and two of my students got honourable mentions. 

Afterwards, I went to them to give high fives and congratulations. Three of them looked and me and said, "I'm sorry." My heart dropped to the floor. I said, "Don't be silly! You did awesome! And I'm extremely proud of all of you." Their heads dropped and they walked away. 

My heart broke. Into what felt like a million pieces. We took pictures and the smiles on their faces were so forced. I tried again to cheer them up by saying, "Way to go! I'm so happy." And they again said "I'm sorry." 

I was so dumb-founded. Why were they sorry? So I asked. And the response I got will forever be engraved on my mind. "I feel like a disappointment. That I am a shame to the school. Because I didn't win." I could have cried. I still want to cry. I felt like it was a reflection on my teaching. I racked my brain trying to figure out how they got the impression that if they didn't win that I would be so angry or disappointed in them. Whenever we rehearsed, I was sure to tell them all of the things they did well with before offering my suggestions for improvement. I high-fived, told them how much they had improved, and commended them on their hard work. I honestly can't think of a time where I ever displayed any other emotion. 

What I have learned over the last year and a bit is that the culture of the Chinese education system and Chinese students is very, very different from that of the western lifestyle. Much of the classroom culture here revolves around competition and being number one. It's engraved in their minds that if you're not first, you're last and you've failed. And I know that these pressures are felt in students and children all over the world, I've just never experienced it within such a large number of students in one classroom. If nothing else, this pressure and mindset makes the students highly motivated, involved, and conscious of their grades and progress. This is a refreshing attitude to see in students as a teacher and in most cases, makes my job very enjoyable. But today was not one of those days. 

I also know that at age 15 or 16, you can't always see the bigger picture and look on the positive side. That ability comes with growing up. However, once I got the three students out of the auditorium and in to a more private area, I spoke to them about how it's okay for them to be upset, angry and frustrated with their performance. I've been there. I've gone in to something confident and aiming to win and didn't achieve my goals. I've been upset with myself and beaten myself up about my performance. I still do it. But there has to come a point where you look at something and say "Okay, I can't go back and change it. But I can move forward and decide how I can be a better person because of the experiences I've had."

And this is what I (attempted) to teach those students tonight. I gave them examples, spoke to them about how to be grateful for the experiences you get to have, and what they can do to move forward. I know they listened, because they nodded and responded with their own opinions. I told each of them how I thought they had grown over the course of doing this assignment. And I ended by challenging them to go home tonight and think of at least one thing that they can be thankful for because they got to have this experience. 

And as they walked away, one student turned around and said to me "Thanks for being my inspiration, Melissa..." Two of the other teachers were standing there as he said that to me, and I turned to them and fought back tears. They patted my back and said, "You are such a great educator with special talents when you talk to the students. They respect you." I never thought that as such a young teacher would I ever impact any students the way some of my teachers did in high school. 

I had the word "Inspire" engraved on the inside of my T-ring for many reasons. But the most important one was that I wanted the idea of inspiring to motivate me to grow and to impact others the way some of the most influential people in my life have inspired me. I want someone to look back years after graduating high school and remember that they had me as a teacher because of the way I inspired them to follow their dreams. And tonight, when that student said those words to me, something sparked inside of me that's hard to explain. Something that makes me want to grow more, do more, see more, and be more. Those words made me proud. Of him, for being so brave and standing up in front of over a hundred people and saying a speech in a different language and doing it so professionally and confidently. I was also proud of myself, of the work I do, and of the profession I get to share with so many others. Teachers are such influential people in a young persons life. For some, they see their teachers more than they see their parents. We need to lead by example, inspire them to be the best version of themselves, and shape them in to well rounded human beings. Being a teacher is so much more than the curriculum, tests, and grades. It's also about the morals, values, and lessons you teach them about life, love, successes, failures, and the world. Teachers inspire. 

I love my job. So, while today was difficult, I can use it to reflect, grow, and motivate myself to continue to inspire these students to go out in the world and be the best possible version of themselves as they can be. I get to be a teacher. And I am so lucky. 

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