I’ve been teaching for four years now. It’s really just a drop in the bucket compared to some of my friends who have been teaching 20, even 30 years.
Of course, I’m here to help students with writing and literature. That’s what I’ve been trained for. That’s why I spent almost seven years of my life reading and writing, studying and learning, sweating and praying for. I’ve paid dearly for my education, in dollars and time and sacrifice.
Here’s my secret:no program or lecture could have possibly prepared me for some of the conversations I’ve had with students. As their teacher, whether or not I deserve it, I am placed in a position of trust that I didn’t earn.
Sometimes, questions are a no-brainer. For example, in cases of abuse, I’m required to legally report it. I’ve never had to, thank goodness.
Many times, though, the questions are not so black and white.
Sometimes, the students who I perceive to be the most difficult (or checked out, or angry) are the ones who come to me with questions or situations I don’t know the answer to, like:
How should I tell my dad I’m pregnant?
Nobody knows I’m homeless.
Since I got out of the Army, I’m really trying to do my best in school, but I can’t sleep from the nightmares.
I haven’t been in class for the past two weeks because I was beaten so badly by my ex’s new girl I was hospitalized.
My husband doesn’t really think I should get my degree.
I’m gay and need to come out to my parents. What should I say?
I need to tell my mama I’m transgender. How can I do that?
I’m falling asleep in class because I work three jobs. No I can’t quit, or we’ll be out of our apartment.
I can’t come back to school next semester because I’m pregnant again.
These are hard questions, and sometimes there are really no right answers. As an educator, I’m expected to know the answers. Sometimes, I just don’t.
Sometimes, I just give the student a tissue and let them talk it out. I ask questions to try to guide them. I don’t judge them, ever, because nobody is perfect and there’s no way to tell what someone’s been through by one experience or one talk. I pray with them. I cry with them. I ask them what I can do to help. The ones I can’t help keep me up late sometimes, worrying. Sometimes I feel like I’m their mama and it’s up to me to make everything okay. But I’m not.
Sometimes, they don’t need a teacher, they need a sounding board, a counselor, a mom. I do my best.
Sometimes, I can help. It’s the ones I can’t that haunt me.