Thirty Pieces of My Thirty Years #17: Teaching

One of my favorite 8th grade classes.

This week marks the start of spring classes at George Mason University. I read my colleagues' messages on Facebook, identifying with the first day jitters and excitement they are reporting, but for the first time in almost 9 years, I'm not headed back to teaching after winter break. Instead of managing a room full of squirrely eighth graders or trying to engage some lethargic second semester freshman in the wonders of Shakepeare, I'm here at home, sipping hot cocoa, blasting my space heater, and getting ready to have a baby.

I'm not sure the reality has really sunk in yet. So far, I just feel like I am on some sort of extended winter break. I'm relishing the time I have to organize our house, set up the nursery, read marriage and parenting books, and write. This time is a real gift to me.

But at some point, I expect, I will wake up one day and realize that I miss teaching. It might come in a few weeks, when the nursery is ready and waiting, when I am left with only the daunting uncertainties of motherhood stretching before me. Or it may come this spring, when my days are consumed with diapers and feedings and the absence of sleep, when even a pile of essays to grade or a classroom full of eighth graders after lunch in the springtime would be a welcome relief. Or perhaps it will take until the fall, when I always feel an almost magical excitement about a new school year, fresh, unmarred, waiting to be unfurled.

The reality is that I've been in school for 25 of my 30 years, either being taught or teaching. My only "real" jobs have been teaching jobs - five years of teaching English at a public middle school, three and a half years teaching composition and literature at George Mason.

And though it has often been very hard, I have loved much about teaching. I have loved putting good books into the hands of my students, loved seeing reluctant readers get hooked on a series and avid readers discovering a new favorite. I have loved the challenge of educating, the impossible task of connecting material with hundreds of different learners and personalities, of making a skill that seems abstract and impossible into one that students see as concrete and possible. I have loved the creative and energetic and sometimes downright goofy part of me that comes out when I am standing in front of a classroom, loved making my students laugh and have fun learning, sometimes in spite of themselves. I have loved the many colleagues who have become friends, loved collaborating with them and laughing and venting and sometimes even crying with them over the ups and downs of the teaching life.

And I have loved my students. Their faces flash before me now, so many of them - Jamie, Mike, Hilary, Cecilia, those whose names I can't remember but whose stories I will never forget. They have inspired me, challenged me, impressed me, and taught me. Because of them, I am more appreciative of God's creativity in making each person unique. Because of them, I am more aware of my impatience and self-righteousness and the ways I will be challenged as a parent. Because of them, I am more conscious of how very blessed I have been and of how very hard life can sometimes be. I could go on and on.

In truth, teaching has been so much a part of my life and my identity as an adult that in some ways, it is hard for me to imagine myself apart from it. When I meet people now and they ask me what I do, I still sometimes say that I am a teacher. It's the answer I've been giving the past eight and a half years, and since I don't really feel like a mother yet, it somehow seems like the most accurate thing to say.

I don't know when I might return to teaching in some sort of official capacity. I may teach a class or two on a part-time basis as soon as the fall; I may teach again when our children are in school themselves. And I may not ever again write the word teacher on my income tax return. The future holds many unknowns. But I do hope that whether I am being paid to stand in front of a classroom or not, I will carry with me the lessons from my teaching years and always be a teacher in the truest sense of the word, helping others to learn and grow and reach their full, God-given potential.