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"Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Hurts"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My first year of teaching felt like a whirlwind of students' faces, lesson planning, assignments, deadlines, meetings, smiles, grimaces, tears, and, most of all, hope.

I arrived in Brownsville, Texas feeling very much at home within the ever present Mexican culture, though I still wondered how I would create a home with my students. I would, after all, spend most of my time with the overwhelming 110 students I was chosen to teach. If I was going to endure the challenges of my first year, I would not only have to survive my students, I would have to thrive amongst them.

Garcia, Hernandez, Ramirez, Cantu—all names that I could pronounce quite easily without a slip of the tongue. Just a week later and I already had their names memorized and their faces forever engrained in my heart. I now needed to create one space for all of us, a place for the people that inhabited those names on the roster sheets, the personalities that occupied the seats in my classroom, the yearning and palpitating hearts that filled the silence as their owners awaited direction.

My greatest fear was that a year would pass without making any connection between me and my students.

I spent the majority of the first quarter lecturing my students, not on the content, but on life lessons—"If you don't read, you will never get better." "You can't get away with these kinds of things in college." "You need to think about your future and how your actions will affect it"—all to no avail. I was convinced that my students were a representation of my work as a teacher. If they failed in any facet of their life, I would have let them down. I trudged along the second quarter, giving reading check quizzes, creating interactive and unorthodox learning activities, and spending late nights commenting on every submitted assignment.

There seemed to be very little progress academically; students were still choosing not to read, waiting until the last minute to do homework assignments, and indifferent to all things English class.

It took months of soldiering on with my head down before I finally looked up and I saw beauty in what I had perceived to be absolute chaos. My students were still my students, but I was different. They had changed me with their uncontrollable laughter during vocabulary games, frustration while reading Gatsby's unraveling in The Great Gatsby, hope when learning of Holden Caulfield's rebellious spirit, and accomplishment when their ideas actually came through in their writing. My students were finally my home, not because of their academic progress, but because we all grew together as one community. We lived through each day, acknowledging each other's humanness and allowing it to flourish at its own pace.

Coming into my second year, I look back and am reminded of the transformative words found in Slaughterhouse-Five: "everything was beautiful and nothing hurts." I begin this year with my head held high, trusting myself as a teacher, leader, friend, and human being. My goal is not to create a home with my new students; it is to open the doors to my existing home, allowing them to fill it with all of their uniqueness and knowing that they will be welcome in my heart always.