When I was in the middle of moving from St. Louis back to my hometown three years ago I remarked to a close friend that I was going to start training to become a boxer. She said, “You can’t do that.” Slightly offended I asked why and she quipped, “You’re too sweet.” In a way she was right. I was a pineapple without it’s rougher exterior. I wore my heart on my sleeve and allowed myself to be vulnerable to everything. Fast forward to last week.
Last week was my first for substitute teaching. As much as it pained me to leave my co-workers at my last job, this new job is the first step in a journey of becoming a certified teacher. What many don’t realize is the first step comes with a lot of tests.
I’m not talking about literal tests where you have to fill in all those little dots until your hands bleed. The tests many of us remember taking in college and high school. The ones where we darkened in the bubbles with the worn down graphite in our pencils only to discover we missed a question and had to erase and start over again. The tests I’m talking about are the ones the students put you through.
When you start substituting, you might think, “Oh I’ve got this. I’m older, I’m smarter.” Don’t kid yourself, you’re not. On paper, you might be. You might even have a piece of paper you forked over thousands of dollars for to say you know how to do something at an expert level, I do. However it only proves you know how to do something. It doesn’t prove you know how to work with people. It doesn’t prove you know how to treat a child coming from a home where their only source of parental affection comes from a television. It doesn’t prove you are an expert in someone’s past. It can however get you a foot in the door to doing something you really love.
I have a degree. Proof that I have taken over sixty credit hours in school. Proof that I can concentrate long enough to make a decent grade. All the proof I need to willingly submit to being tested by some of the toughest people on the planet…grade schoolers.
They will try to tell you the teacher’s lesson plan. They will knowingly pass notes about farting superheroes hoping they will get caught. They will feign tummy aches and ouchies just to get out of class. They will try to give you guilt trips and hold you responsible for losing a book that has been on their desk the whole time. They will see just how many things they can get away with before their substitute for the day gives up.
Boxing taught me to tough out what you think will inevitably kill you. It taught me to have confidence and to believe in myself. My life training in retail, dealing with customers and quirky co-workers has taught me patience. These kids weren’t ready for a teacher who wasn’t going to shout at them. They weren’t ready for a teacher who was going to tough out their tests. They weren’t ready for a teacher who doesn’t give up, or give in to their scheming plans to get out of learning correct grammar and punctuation. They weren’t ready for someone who understands what it’s like to be a kid.
As I taught them, they taught me.
“Thank you for being nice to us even though we were bad,” remarked one of my students. The more I teach, the tougher my exterior becomes, yet at the same time, I find my insides getting sweeter. What life experience has taught you something when you least expected it?