Madame de Baré, Tara L. Smith
(Featured in 39 Strangers Peace Corps Publication)
As I walk around the classroom as the students I proctor take a Physics test, I count down the minutes. The past four weeks of model school have been terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, terrifying, and negative. But necessary…un mal necessaire. As I mocked being a teacher, I have begun to see what it means to be one. It means that first year teachers really are clowns, because they fall down a lot (sometimes literally), but they wipe the dirt off and they get back up again. Being a teacher means NOT being perfect. It means sharing what you know, and learning too (sometimes when you’re least expecting it, a student says something that opens your eyes that much wider). It means having patience…and at times, losing patience (although we really try not to). It means diving into your students’ world, while trying to maintain it. It’s motivating yourself, and then motivating your students. Being a teacher means that sometimes you fail. After one miserable week, I wrote a blog that worried my American mom enough to ask my motivator to call me- Madame Parks, my high school French teacher, who inspired me from the moment she entered the classroom, and who never once stopped encouraging me in the passing seven years. Knowing me so well, she put things into perspective for me. She gave me this quote: “The right thing to do and the harder thing to do are the same thing.” And the things that sent me into tears the week before seemed to be worth it, because while I had failed at some of the details, just sticking it out and around to figure it all out is ultimately what it’s all about anyway. Being a teacher means not giving up on her students, even when it gets really difficult.
At the end of my four weeks, I conclude that I still don’t know entirely what a teacher is, but I know that I am going to have those weeks when all that keeps me going is knowing that someone loves me and supports me, even half the world away. Oh, but how I look forward to those moments when a student says or does something brilliant and sends my pride soaring, or when I see that a few students were actually listening (when I thought that no one cared because the dérangers lost focus…), or when one kid tells me “ashia” after you fall down in front of everyone. Thursday, as I was writing the date on the board, I mumbled that my birthday was going to be in two days, not expecting anyone to understand- but suddenly my class erupted in singing “Happy Bird-day to you…” I stood there and soaked in the joy of seventy-two students wishing me a happy birthday (in English, by the way). The same group of kids that had me angry the day before had just made my entire week. I think that for me, being a teacher is holding on until I get to moments like that.
At the beginning of model school, I told myself that I would never smile with my students, but I’ve found that after four weeks, there comes a time when you can.