Teaching to Learn
It’s 1:03 a.m. and I am lying down on the black turf of the Wheeler School playground. My stomach is way too full of cheese pizza, vanilla ice cream, and Kool-Aid and my nails are painted a crimson red and sparkly turquoise.
“DON’T wash it off,” my seventh grade manicurist reminds me, before turning to join her giggly friends at the henna station.
Tonight is Breakthrough Providence’s annual Lock-In. From 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., the gym is the nucleus of campus, a hub of 80 middle school students and 30-odd teachers and administrators. Some kids make it all the way without sleeping; others clock out at midnight. For many students, this is the first time sleeping away from home with a large number of their peers.
And so, the energy in the gym is electric - its current maintained largely by the insane amount of activities we’ve coordinated. Tonight, I’ve already sung, lip-synced, and danced in the Staff Talent Show. I’ve held the hands of my students and shrieked with them as we’ve run through the Haunted House. I’ve gone hoarse cheering during the Student-Staff Basketball Game, and I’ve built up more than a sweat in a huge game of dodgeball.
Each teacher gets one two-hour break for the night - to sleep, to caffeinate, to do whatever. I’ve spent the last half-hour of mine lying on this cushiony turf on the playground, looking up at the stars and listening to one of the teachers inside strumming her ukulele, lulling a bunch of middle schoolers in pajamas to sleep with a rendition of “Sunday Morning.”
Teaching has been, more than any other job I’ve had, a lesson in weaving together and being woven into all types of moments: joy, exhaustion, laughter, stress, tiredness, awkwardness. When you teach, you learn to be constant. The only variables - and they are necessary ones - are your lesson plans and your activities, because you must challenge your students day in and day out with something new. But you, the teacher, are constant.
You are constant even in the face of unpredictability. One second you’re getting up on stage and lip-syncing “Love on Top” and then the next you’re having a conversation in class about not using the phrase, “That’s so gay.” You watch one of your students come into class with the biggest grin on his face and talk about institutionalized racism with maturity that gives you chills, and then you see him cry for the first time the next day because, well, middle school is hard. It’s feeling like a bad teacher. It’s feeling like a good teacher.
Through all these back and forths and hot and colds, you are constant. Or, at least have to be.
As someone interested in pursuing a career in education, I have frequently been asked, often skeptically, “So, why teaching?” And, my response has always definitively been, “Because you teach to learn.” Only recently, though, do I feel I’ve really been able to back that up - or rather, substantiate that creed.
It’s not about coincidence or causality. Otherwise, it would simply be, “When you teach, you learn.”
Really, it's about intentionality. You teach to learn. You teach in order to learn. You teach because you believe that anyone in this world has just as much to offer you as you do to them.
No doubt that that’s the hardest lesson here, and quite frankly, I’m still learning it. Turquoise sparkles and all.
October 29, 2015
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August 25, 2015
Mariana is an iProv Summer Intern at the Rhode Island Center for Justice, which provides free legal services to low income Rhode Islanders in the fields of utility termination prevention, tenants’ rights, and workers’ rights. Her research is on utility termination for medically vulnerable households.
August 24, 2015