Confessions of a High School Spanish Teacher

This topic has been on my mind for a while lately, but I’ve wondered if my readers would be the least bit interested.  I mean, the majority of you are in your teens and twenties, so why would you want to know what happens in the mind of your teacher?  Then, I heard God reminding me that his perspective is bigger than mine.

I began teaching in 2002 and have taught 8th-12th graders.  People look at me with pity when I tell them I teach teens.  It’s funny because that’s the same way I look at elementary teachers.  I love what I do, and I love the ages I get to work with everyday.

Confession #1

I enjoy being known as the hard teacher.  Yes I said it.  I know I have past students who will read this and know exactly what I’m talking about.  That first day of school when we go over my expectations and repeat a million times Permítame ir al baño, I see the fear in my students’ eyes, and I continue on.  I look past all of the versions of that question (my favorite and most common is Pear-mee-tah-may  ira albino).  I smile every time I think of a student saying it that way because, believe it or not, I understand.  I was there once.  I was scared, and I never wanted to speak out loud.

It’s not that I want my students to think I’m mean, and it’s definitely not the fear in their eyes that drive me to do what I do.  It’s because every first day of school I see that fear in so many of their eyes, and I know what’s about to happen to them in the upcoming months.  I know that they are going to be successful in my class, and their confidence is going to be boosted, which will seep into their outside lives even if just a little.  I know that I will get to be the person who sees their eyes light up when they finally get a concept they’ve been working on for what seems like forever to them.  That’s one of the most exciting moments for me as a teacher!

I enjoy being known as the hard teacher because, even though I’ve had administrators tell me my expectations are too high, I know that my students can and will rise to meet those high expectations.  It only seems hard to them at first because we’ve become a world where expectations are lowered and concepts are “dumbed down” because someone higher up doesn’t believe students are capable of working with the intelligence God gave them.  I think the problem really is that those in control don’t want to work harder to get every student to a successful place.  It is hard, and it is time consuming.  I’ve had moments where I wanted to just pass everybody so I didn’t have to stay and tutor or grade more thoroughly, but how does that benefit the student?  What’s the purpose of my job if that’s what I do?

I enjoy being known as the hard teacher because that means I’m actually challenging my students, and I can assure you that when my students enter their next Spanish class, they are grateful to me.  I know this because I’m told every year.

All students – all people in general – need to know someone believes in them.  They need to know they are capable.  At the same time, they don’t need pressure of making all As because everyone has a subject in school that just doesn’t click with them.  Instead, students need high expectations set and someone with a watchful eye that sees they are working as hard as they can who also showers them with praise for all of their hard work.  As a teacher, I have the ability to make a C feel like an A.  If my student worked to the best of her ability to average a C in my class, then she absolutely met my high expectations.  She doesn’t need a 100 in my class to prove that she did what I expected.

By the way—the word “can’t” is not allowed in my class.  All of my students absolutely can be successful.  They all reach it at different times, but they can and will be successful as long as they put forth effort.

Confession #2

I love my students.  If you know me, or if you’ve sat in my classroom at some point in your life, you know this is absolutely true.   While I love all of my students, each year a select few find their way into the depths of my heart.  They’re usually the ones other teachers gave up on a long time ago – the troublemakers, but somehow I find a connection with them.  God has blessed me with the privilege of seeing lives change before my very eyes.  It makes me wonder how anyone can question if God is real because of the unexplainably drastic transitions I’ve seen.

One year, I had a boy who I still hear from on occasion (7 years later).  He was “the troublemaker,” and that’s with a capital T.  I knew he was going to be a handful when I had to get on to him the first day of school—actually I had to get on to him before his body was even fully in the room!  I started hearing other teachers complain about his behavior and attitude.  He had detention with me one day, and he happened to be the only one in there, so we talked during his detention time.  What did we talk about?  Manicotti.  Yes, that’s the only thing I remember of the conversation.  I don’t know why we talked about it, but I remember telling him that my husband likes when I make it.  Something about me saying that made me real to him.  I was a teacher talking to him like an equal.  His eyes were opened, and for the first time he saw me as a person and not simply his teacher.  That was the day he changed.

He helped with after school activities, he changed his attitude in my class, he attended school every day, and one day he came to me crying about something that happened in football, and he wanted to quit.  We had a lengthy conversation about life, and how we will always run into a boss or authority figure who, for no reason, will be downright mean to us.  We talked about how to push through those times and not allow them to force us out of the things we love doing.  He chose not to quit football and continued to play on into high school.  He wrote me a note thanking me for that talk and for all the other things throughout the year that had meant so much to him (bottom right).

I live for these times.  I live for these notes, and I tend to get them every year.  What’s cool is that I don’t even do anything special.  I’ve just treated these students as anyone else.  There is no such thing as a “bad kid,” and I don’t allow myself to take in stories from their previous teachers.  They come into my class with me being fully aware of their potential and knowing they are all great kids.

I’m no better than they are.  Yes, I’m their authority, and they show me respect, but I never have to demand it from them.  I never have to ask for a letter of apology when they do mess up.  They just feel the need to write one or verbally apologize (even if what they did had nothing to do with me).  I keep every one of those notes.  I read them often, and I remember those students that touched my heart permanently.

I’ve been told before by my supervisors that I’m not compassionate.  I’ve also been told that I care more about other things than I do my students, and boy have those words cut like a knife.  I’ve found myself growing each time I hear words like this being used to describe me.  I’ve been defensive, confrontational, hurt deeply, and . . . well I don’t know what you would call what I’ve grown into.  If a colleague or administrator were to describe me in this light now, I would simply brush it off.  I know it’s not true, and most importantly, my students could never be convinced of any truth in these words because they know better.  They know I am incredibly compassionate and love them dearly.

Confession #3

I pray for my students.  It used to be that I got to school early (before becoming a mom), and I walked down the aisles and prayed over every desk naming each student who sat in that desk by name.  I prayed for peace in my classroom and respect and safety.  I prayed many things over each student every day, and they never knew.

I became a mom, and making it to school on time was (is) difficult enough, so I stopped going early.  Instead, I prayed on the way to school.  I prayed over every student calling them out by name while I was driving down the road.

Now, I fill my journal with prayers for students God lays on my heart.  I pray for them at random times.  Sometimes it’s during class, sometimes at home, sometimes in the middle of church. . . I pray for them, and I cry for them.

Just a month ago I found myself crying while talking to my husband about a student who my heart has been desperately trying to reach.  I’ve never cried to this extent for a student, but I couldn’t control the tears.

I know God hears my prayers.  Sometimes it’s hard for me understand why certain things are happening, but I know his perspective is far greater than mine.  I know he placed me here, and I know he has placed specific students in my class.  For what reason, I may never know.  I don’t question it.  I just go and be here for them hopefully as much as they need me to be.

To the Students

I hope this gives you a little insight, and I pray you think about your teachers’ intentions before completely shutting them out.  No, not all teachers are the same, but you never know why they do what they do.  Also remember that just like you have things going on in your life that can affect your work and behavior at school, you never know what’s going on in the life of your teacher.  It may sometimes be difficult for her to pull herself together and get to school to teach you and help you with problems all while appearing that everything is right in her life.

If you have a teacher who has made a difference somehow in your life, I encourage you to let him or her know.  More than any gift card, candy, or Christmas ornament, hearing from students that they have somehow touched their lives is one of the best gifts a teacher could ever get.  The gift cards and candy are long gone, but the letters I’ve received from my students in the past 10 years are all together in a folder where I can read them any time I want.