My first week as a teacher at the Alabama School of Fine Arts was in some ways a lot like my first week as a student there years and years ago.
For those of you unfamiliar with the school, it’s a special school for students with talents in the arts and sciences. The students go to school from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (and that’s not counting extracurricular activities), the classes are very challenging, and they must maintain a certain grade point average or they’ll get kicked out of the school. In other words, ASFA students are under a lot of pressure.
Coming from an inner city public school where I had textbooks as old as my mom and classmates who couldn’t read, my first year at ASFA was one marked by culture shock and a deflated ego. I was no longer the smart kid at school because everyone was smart and most of my schoolmates were smarter than I was.
I can’t begin to describe the pressure I’ve felt my first week as a teacher as ASFA, but I must admit this is pressure I’ve put on myself. Teaching at such a prestigious school I feel as if I somehow have to know EVERYTHING and be THE authority on all things literature. I spent the week setting ridiculous goals for my lesson plans and feeling inadequate next to education gurus who have been teaching longer than I’ve been alive.
Fortunately, I’m surrounded my colleagues who tell me to Go home! when they see hanging around my classroom hunched over my computer long after I’ve taught my last period of the day. And the head of the English department (who is also my former teacher and the woman I credit with inspiring me to pursue a writing career) is the coolest boss on the planet and keeps reminding me to Chill out, have fun and make sure you have a life.
Best of all I am teaching an amazing group of kids. They are smart, engaging, eager to learn and determined to succeed. Despite the stress, they made this first week zip by and they’re always saying or doing something to make my day.
Friday, while my students were working on a creative response assignment, one girl turned to me and, out of the blue, said, “You know how I would describe your eyes? Hopeful. If I had to write something about you and I had to describe your eyes I would say they’re hopeful. They’re so bright and happy and when I look at them I see hope.”
I was so shocked it took me nearly a minute to respond. That was probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me in my entire life! And with that I realized how no matter how stressed I may get I am ridiculously blessed to teach at a school like ASFA because when I look into my students eyes, I see hope too.