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.