So...when people ask me what I do, I have to admit...I have a hard time explaining it to them. Yes, I teach. But no, I didn't go to school to be a teacher. Well...not in the sense that other 'teachers' did. I never took curriculum, I'm not certified and have never taken any state administered exam. I cannot and do not work for any school board/administration/school system. I did, however, go to school to teach children. Middle and high schoolers, in particular.
I DO teach my students...don't get me wrong. They have learned more about theatre and stage design within the past 7 months than they ever thought they would want to. However, I am more satisfied with the fact that I teach them that I care. Ms. Rayona (or as they say it, Mizz Rayawwwwna...that Souf-eas' DC accent makes a difference!) actually cares about them. I ask them "Hey girl, how you be?" (excuse the language, while it isn't proper, it is perfect to their dialect), and I stand and wait for the response. Those who choose to, converse with me, until the next friend comes in with something else to keep their minds on. Those who decide not to know that I am here, and will be when they decide to open up.
The thing these students...girls...want most from us is attention. Period. That is what they seek at this age. Whether it be in good ways or not, they are all seeking to have their needs met. And in most cases, my students are not getting this at home, and most definitely not at school. So, it is my job to give it to them, even if it is only for 2 minutes a day. I have to remind myself to greet them each by name, and speak to them about something personal. "Ooh girl, those earrings are too cute...when you gon' let me borrow 'em?" "So...I see you smiling...did you see your boo today?" Whatever it may be, I need to meet this need for this specific child, otherwise, she is going to slip through the cracks, and will seek her attention somewhere else, more than likely, in a not so positive place.
Sometimes, with only 3 staff members and 18 students, they do slip through, and we don't get a chance to greet them all. We end up paying for it later though, when they decide to act out. They choose to do whatever it is that is going to get our attention, as well as everyone else in the classroom. True, it may get them sent out of the room, but isn't that what they want? We tell them to go 'take a moment', which means 'go out into the hallway, calm down for a few, and I will be out there to speak to you shortly'. Of course, the rest of their peers see this, and are watching intently to see what will happen...trying to find out what buttons can be pushed, how far the staff will go before getting upset, etc. Anyway, out in the hallway, we ask them why they think they were sent out, what did they do wrong if anything, and how can the problem be solved in the future.
This one on one time is what they crave, no matter how much eye rolling they do, or how much attitude they give. I am learning to be sensitive to this, no matter how disrespected I felt (the reason I send students out, mostly). I let them know that I will not and cannot stand to be disrespected, especially when I go out of my way to treat everyone fairly, and give them respect. I let them know that I appreciate them as a person, I think they are important, and I know they had a bad moment/day/time; that I can forgive, and that we can move forward. This is what they need to hear, and that is what I am here to let them know. If they are comfortable, I offer a hug to honestly show that I am harboring no hard feelings...and usually a closer connection is born from there.
So I wear many hats. Not only am I a teacher, but truly a nurturer, an attention giver, a forgiver and a mentor. I am a youth development worker, plain and simple.
Now...if I can remember that as much as they do.