I burst out laughing.
I never thought I’d say that within the first two days of school. But I did. Not only did I laugh, but I smiled often.
It was a random thing one of my students said. I couldn’t hold it back. I didn’t want to. He kinda stood there awkwardly, not knowing whether to laugh along or wait for me to flip into serious mode. I did neither. I just told him “That was funny” and kept talking while my cooperating teacher looked on. I sat at my desk shortly thereafter, wondering if expressing myself was the right thing to do only 10 periods into the school year.
This week felt like I got a 3/5ths do-over from last year and a 2/5ths fresh start. Three eighth grade classes, most of whom I’ve seen last year. Two seventh grade, many of whom have siblings who attended my classes before. I look around at these young faces, hoping for a new experience but doubtful about the school’s changed. We have assemblies, but most of them whisper that they’d rather stay in my class than go downstairs. They’re already knocking on my door during my lunch, staying a few minutes longer after the bell.
They look to me like an oasis. My people keep telling me they’re lucky to have me. I’m trying to live up to all of these eyes.
Smiling hasn’t been part of my repertoire. In the last 14 years, I’ve had a reputation for the serious face. In my first few years, it became a hallmark of my pedagogy. After a few years, it turned into part of my being. It unnerves most people, but the kids get used to it. But I also noticed how the lack of smiles as an external decision creeped into some of my inner workings. There were points last year where I seriously reconsidered whether any of this work was worth it, and these obstacles pulled me further from my purpose. At times, the teacher in that classroom felt like a sail holding then usually giving way to the gusts of wind in its direction.
I’m smiling to recover the boom of the ship before the boat tosses me ashore.
You got me?