Teaching high schoolers is the best job in the world for more reasons that I can express, but some days it is one of the hardest jobs. Those moments where you have fun and get to know your students are crucial and meaningful for both parties involved. What I am beginning to realize, however, is that those moments are also full of self-reflection.
This semester I have mostly juniors and seniors and so the usual topics of graduation, senior rites of passage, and college come up. I was listening in on some girls discussing plans for prom and their uncertainty over going. I encouraged them to go, mentioning that I regret never going to prom. The girls couldn’t believe that I never went to prom but it was me that was stunned when they asked me why. I did not go to prom because my high school boyfriend did not want to go. I let a boy dictate an important decision at the time. I found myself unable to tell these girls the truth. How do I tell impressionable young girls that I let a boy convince me not to go but they shouldn’t worry about not having a date? It just doesn’t work that way.
Students know I am a recent graduate so they consistently ask me about the school I went to. One day I mentioned that I only went to my university for two years because I had attended community college prior. This began a really important discussion about the benefits of community college and I was impressed that my students could weigh these advantages and disadvantages in such mature ways. Next thing I know I was again asked, “why?” Why did you go to community college? Because my relationship was slipping through my fingertips and I felt like a failure that I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn’t say those words. I was saved by the bell luckily but I walked away from the conversation feeling like a chicken.
I want students to look up to me, to respect me, and to aspire to their fullest potential because of me and I have not yet decided which of my mistakes/decisions may or may not help them do this. I know conversations like the two I mentioned will only continue to happen, and I expect this internal struggle to continue. I want students to learn from my mistakes when I choose to share them, but I don’t ever want to leave the impression that because I made a certain decision it is okay for them to do the same. I imagine parents go through similar struggles. I want the best for my students, and I want to help them in any way I can. Maybe learning how to share my past will come with experience. I hope it does, because conversations about life with your students are the most important part of the school day.
I spent the majority of college with a broken heart, not knowing my self-worth, and desperate for someone to find me special. The first week of my Spring semester Freshmen year my high school boyfriend and I broke up and I began to spiral. Fast forward to the following summer and I had made some progress but had not recovered. One night my high school best friend asked me to go hang out at the park. He didn’t have a car that summer so I picked him up and we went to the park. We sat on a bench for a while and talked. Then his arm was around me. Then he was tickling me. Then he was holding my hand. I remember awkwardly laughing and getting up to walk around to escape the situation. Eventually we found our way to another bench and he started again with the tickling. I remember turning to look at him desperate to see his intentions in his eyes. Me looking into his eyes was apparently the invitation he needed. His lips were on mine. I remember pulling away, laughing again, telling him to stop. He told me, “You’re laughing you don’t mean that.” I didn’t understand. Was he right? Was I actually enjoying it? We were sitting on a bench in a public park and he was kissing me and no one thought it looked strange or concerning so it must have been okay. I kept saying stop, giggling nervously each time and he kept saying “You don’t mean that.” I do not remember how but eventually we were back to my car. I quickly put the car in drive and he put it back in park. His lips were on my mine. His hands on my body. I said stop so many times. I had my arms positioned in my lap to prevent him from going any further. I did not want this. I begged him to stop saying I needed to get home. He sang along to the radio the whole way to his house. When we got to his house I looked straight ahead and put my foot on the break. He put the car in park and turned my head again toward his. I didn’t fight it. Why would he have kissed me this many times if I didn’t want it? I must have wanted it. As soon as the car door closed I sped off crying the whole way home.
It’s been almost four years since that day. I’ve made a lot of decisions with guys that I wish I could change, but I made those decisions. This day in question was not something I chose to do. A man kissed me despite my protests, despite my lack of consent. It’s taken four years to write these words. I’m in the best place of my life emotionally right now and I think it’s taken me being in that place to finally realize that that night was not just my best friend kissing me, it was a man not listening to me say, “stop.” It was the night I was denied the right to consent.
The Women’s Marches this past weekend have surprised, inspired, confused, and angered a lot of people. I do not promise to have a unique take on the matter but that does not stop me from needing to share my story:
I had heard about these marches in advance but had no intention of partaking. When I turned my TV on Saturday and watched footage of these peaceful protests I was in awe. Millions of women peacefully gathered together to fight for something they believe in. To me, that is inspiring. Regardless of your political views please take a moment to acknowledge this huge accomplishment. Not a single arrest was made in Washington DC. Peaceful protest is possible. The more footage I watched and the more pictures from friends I saw the more I wanted to be there. I am amazed at the variety of voices that spoke out that day, the variety of rights that were advocated for, and the variety of responses that have since come out.
Two days later I sit here thinking about what my own sign would have said as I marched with those other women. In college I took 18 math classes. I was one of two maybe three females in those classes. I was a minority for the first time in my life. There is a stigma that mathematicians and other STEM careers are for some reason a man’s job. I would consistently have peers ask me why I was in these math classes and when they found out that it was to be a teacher they would tell me, “Good for you” or “Of course.” How dare anyone even suggest that the only reason I was in these classes was to be the less important role of a teacher. How dare they think that their future career plans were better than mine because they were a more qualified male! And most importantly, had I chose the same careers as them how dare they make more money than me just because they were a man. I took 18 math classes in college. I graduated cum laude. Do not underestimate my ability to be just as qualified as a man. My sign would have read, “For all the little girls dreaming of being scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and computer specialists.”
I am proud to know so many women who fight for women’s’ rights. I wish I had been with you on Saturday. Thank you for fighting for something it took me two days to put into words. Thank you.
Tomorrow is the first day of school: the first day of school where I’ll be getting paid to teach. Binders for each subject have been made, new planner has been filled out, colored pens have been purchased, and a weeks’ worth of math keys have been made. I am ready. I am excited. I am thankful.
Deciding what I wanted to do with my life was quite the journey for something that now seems so natural to me. It took two years of college and continuing to enroll in math classes just for fun for me to find my passion in life. Sitting in my Calculus Two course my sophomore year of college I realized how unbelievably frustrating math can be, and in that moment I was hooked. I fell in love with the puzzle and curiosity of math. I fell in love with the way I could spend hours struggling with a concept and suddenly a light bulb would go off and that sense of accomplishment was unrivaled to anything else I had ever experienced. This feeling started to remind me of something I had experienced in the past. I started to remember in other math classes that I took how I would help friends and peers and the feeling I got when they experienced their own light bulb was incomparably better (and stronger) than my own sense of accomplishment. And just like that, I settled on my career path: High school mathematics teacher.
I come home every day, even the not so good days, knowing that this is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life and I am so thankful that I can experience that feeling. Tomorrow might not be the first day in my own classroom, that momentous occasion is a few months away, but tomorrow is still a day worth celebrating. It is the start of a job that I love and a job I get PAID for.