The early years of my life were the hardest, and will most likely always be. For several years, my mom struggled with drug addiction. She wasn’t there to take care of me when I needed her, and even worse, she wasn’t there to take care of my little brother. At 5 years old, I had become my 3 year old brother’s primary caretaker. Looking back, I can’t even fathom how it was possible. I should have been playing and not even taking care of myself, but instead I was making meals in the microwave, getting him dressed for the day, and cleaning up after him. It wasn’t until I was 9 years old that things changed. I finally told my school counselor what was happening, and my whole world changed. I had spent so many years learning to be independent and to rely on only myself, and then we were taken to a home and I was expected to act like a normal kid.
School was the one place I felt safe. Despite everything that was going on at home, I excelled at school. Everything came easily. I was the “smart kid”. I felt good at school, and never wanted to go home. I dreaded summer breaks. My teachers were always so kind and sent me home with lots of books to read to keep me occupied. I learned so much from the books I read. The stories gave me hope that someday, I too could have a happy ending. I was able to go somewhere else and be carefree when I had a book in my hands. As I got older, I realized that I could write my own story. Not in an actual book, but the story of my life. I didn’t have to stay stuck in this rut. Reading is what saved me.
When I was a junior in high school, I took a college level math course. It was the same teacher that had taught geometry my freshman year, and I really liked him. However, geometry was another one of those things that just came easy to me, and for some reason I didn’t feel like I learned a lot of new material – I just knew how to do everything. Pre-calculus was different. It was definitely the hardest class I had ever taken. Until then, math was my favorite subject. That changed within the first couple of weeks of the class. If you didn’t just get it, the teacher didn’t slow down to help you, he just kept going. Every morning before school I would go in to get extra help. He wasn’t much help though since other students would go in just to visit with him and that’s where he focused his attention. I ended up finishing the class with a D. It was 1% away from a C. There was nothing I could do to get my grade up just a tiny bit. Until then, the lowest grade I had ever gotten was a high B. I was devastated, and even more so when I learned that D’s don’t count in college. So I would have to retake the class again the next year if I wanted credit for it. That was the moment I knew exactly what kind of teacher I didn’t want to be.
My actual note sheet for one of the tests that year
My first year of college was definitely an eye-opener for me. I lived on campus. My earliest class was 9 am. I figured that would be easy since I had to be to high school by 7:45. I was so wrong. My 9 o’clock class was English and it was HARD. So, I managed to drag myself out of bed and make it to that class. My 10:30 sociology class that followed though got skipped… a lot. I could not figure out what was going on and why I couldn’t make it to all of my classes. I finally decided that I needed to take my education seriously and accept that not everything was going to come easily anymore. If I was going to be successful, I was going to have to work at it. Once I realized that, everything came naturally and has been better since.
Photo CC-By Tzuhsun Hsu
As a substitute teacher, I don’t get a lot of time with the same students. However, I feel that it is important that I still connect with them and try to improve their learning experience. Each class has students with a such a wide variety of abilities. At first, I was overwhelmed and thought there was no way that I would ever be able to accommodate all of them. I realized though, that I can make small steps to help do just that. It has been an incredible learning experience and I think everyone going into education should have to be a substitute teacher at some point. You learn so much about classroom management, learning goals, academics, and most importantly, building relationships.
Photo CC-By woodleywonderworks