…just another goodbye…

Tomorrow will mark my last moments (half-day) at East Jackson Comprehensive High School.  It’s hard to believe that three years have flown by since I first laid eyes on what I THOUGHT was a mini-mall but was actually the high school.

So, like a good blogger addicted to announcing to the world my thoughts and feelings of every momentous occasion, I sit before my (falling apart) iMac to reflect upon my time as an East Jackson Eagle.

Teaching started out as something I could tolerate doing for a little while.  I believed I was out to change the world.  I believed I was out to fix the system…rocking the foundations of what is accepted as “good schooling” and opening the eyes of a business-minded world the complexities of the social science that is education.  I believed in order to do this, I needed to pay my dues at the front lines of battle, face-to-face with those that are served in this system: the students.  I would maybe teach at two or three different types of schools, and then go and become “Dr. Lydia Chung” (obviously NOW, “Dr. Lydia An”) at a reputable School of Education as a doctoral student in the field of educational policy…

…and HOPEFULLY, show those politicians what GOOD EDUCATION really looks like…
Needless to say, there was a lot of anger, pride, and arrogance mixed into this dream, though I also would argue that my intentions were good.  I believed I was out to save the youth of today from themselves and a system that were doing them a disservice by taking student-responsibility out of the educational equation (though I would like to say that I still DO believe that…as do many other of my fellow colleagues whom I battle with on the front lines of the war between ignorance and knowledge).  I was doing it for THEM…and, on the macro scale, saving a nation from itself.
See…arrogance…I’ll be the first the admit it…
So with my good intentions and my rookie enthusiasm coursing through my veins, I invited these people into my life…
The EJCHS Class of 2011

My very first class was Advanced World History.  I found the students capable…but many times irresponsible and lazy (one actually made an A though he/she slept through lectures EVERY SINGLE DAY…you know who you are!!).  I found myself exasperated, wanting to control them…wanting to excite them…wanting them to benefit from my “perfect” teaching.
Let me tell you…it was a wake up call!!
Now, while it was true that they needed to take some responsibility for their success (AND I STILL STICK BY THAT, GUYS!!), I realized that there was a key factor in the equation that I was NOT considering: THE TEACHER!  ME!!  I spent a good chunk of that first semester believing in my superiority over these “ignorant” youngsters and appalled that they did not WANT to reap the bountiful harvest of knowledge I had for them.  I did not realize that, in all honesty, I did not care for them.  I only cared about what they could produce for me: make me look good by producing SUPERIOR projects, acing every test (which I would purposely make harder than the standardized ones they would have to take the next year), and be my crowning achievement as a teacher.  They were guinea pigs in my social scientific experiment…NOT MY STUDENTS!!
But as I began learning from, time and time again, butting my head against that hypothetical wall, I began to learn two things about education.

  1. If I want to prove that education is NOT a business but a social science, I had better start treating it thusly. 
  2. If I want my kids to care about what I’m teaching them, I had better learn to care about THEM!!  (Yes, Dr. Brown and Dr. Secules of the Piedmont MAT program…you were right!)

So, I began to slowly let go of my OCD tendencies (actually, that’s an understatement…I FOUGHT TOOTH AND NAIL my OCD tendencies).  I broke almost every rule that I’ve heard about being a good teacher.  

  1. I smiled at them the very first day (*BLOOD CURDLING SCREAM*)
  2. I did not have concrete rules…just general expectations (though, later on, concrete rules would begin to ease their way back into my classroom)
  3. I did not have a concrete “Classroom Management” Plan
  4. I let my students retry on tests to earn partial credit back
  5. I spent time talking to them about their lives and what was going on
  6. I cried with them…laughed with them…shared with them (but NOT TOO MUCH!!)

All in all, I may have had to deal with a lot more headaches with controlling the classroom, but the benefit of my choices truly began to shine through.

The students began to LEARN!
Now, I’m not suggesting that every teacher adopt my free teaching style.  On the contrary…I am the first to admit I may have gone overboard.  But one thing that I definitely do NOT regret about my approach is that I got to know my students on a level I otherwise would not have been able to know them on.  They would walk into my classroom randomly between classes just to say hi (i.e. students I would “kick out” of my classroom EVERYDAY before 4th block, but know I actually enjoyed speaking with them those few moments between classes).  They would come in after school for help.  And they would feel comfortable talking to me about their problems, fears, and even grief.
Teaching was no longer a means to an end, like I had always planned it would be.  It became an end in and of itself.  Sure, I’ll continue to complain about the system and I will continue to work towards that PhD in Educational Policy (Michigan State Univ is a great place to perhaps realize that dream).  But no matter what, students will always and forever be the center of the educational experience I aim to “make better” here in the United States, whether teaching a class of 30+ or doing field research and writing long papers to “stick-it” to the “MAN”.  It will be for the students that I will fight this war against ignorance.  It will be for the students that I will come up with creative solutions to the educational problem.  And it will be for the students that I MAY decide to dust off my volumes of binders (which are the result of my OCD nature) and teach again.
So to the graduates of EJCHS, who were at times more my teachers than I was there’s, I salute your accomplishments.  I wish the very best for each of you.  I will think of you often, and always and forever remember that you were my first students…and no one else will ever take that special position you hold in my life away from you.

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