I stand in front of the class. There are still a few minutes before it’s time to start. Some of the students play on their phones. Others stare straight ahead. Some stare at me.
I stare at the paper in front of me, a diligent outline of my plans for this meeting. I try to memorize it while taking deep breaths. It’s nearly show time.
I am a performer. It’s not enough to just talk, to tell them the dos and don’ts of writing. I can’t be monotonous. I can’t stand still. I have to gesture. I have to move. My voice has to have inflection. I have to capture their attention. I have to persuade them to trust me. I have to convince them to listen to me.
I am a court jester. I not only perform, but I entertain. If their eyes start to close or their gaze starts to wander, I sing a song or dance awkwardly, maybe say a word like “poop” or “boob” that catches them off-guard. If I keep them laughing, I keep their attention, and maybe they’ll learn something in between my stunts.
I am a friend. I have to emphasize with them. “Verbs suck, I know. I hate them, too,” I say. I have to be approachable. They have to feel I can understand what they’re going through. They want to know me, connect with me. They’re amazed I know the words to their favorite songs and shocked when I mention Marvel movies in class.
I am a mother. I have to find a balance between comforting my students when they fail and inflicting tough love to get them to try harder. I want to protect them, but I don’t want to coddle them. The real world is cruel, and I have to prepare them.
It’s not enough to teach them words. I have to teach them concepts. I have to teach them how to think critically. I have to teach them truth. I have to teach them how to find truth in themselves.
I spend my days and my nights dreaming up new ways to approach topics, new perspectives to offer, new methods to explain so their writing can improve. I can’t or don’t stop thinking about teaching. I am responsible for these kids. They’re depending on me to provide them the education they need.
So I take that last minute to breathe, to plan. And then class begins. I begin.