This is Megan’s 5th speech from the Competent Communicator manual: “Your Body Speaks”. Megan is to use stance, body movement, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact that illustrate and enhance her verbal message. Body language should help the audience visualize the speaker’s points and overall message. In this speech, Megan will reflect on her time teaching high school math and physics for the past three years.
Imagine your first day of high school: fresh notebooks, wide eyes, a little awkward tension and a lot of excitement for all that is yet to unfold.
I remember my first first day of school as a teacher. The bell rings to signal the start of class, I’m standing at the front of the classroom and the students are in their desks, eagerly awaiting. And I smile. I smile because I recognize this as a dream. I find that much of my “free” time is spent dreaming about the how my students will be and who they will become. And even as perfect strangers in that very first moment, I love them already.
But that sweet moment quickly fades as we dive into the school year. I learn to chide with the class clowns and I am grateful for the hard workers. Over our 180 days together, I’d like to think that I taught my students something about math and maybe a little bit about life along the way. But the funny thing about being a teacher is that you often feel that you learn way more than your students. I mean, I certainly see math differently than the students because I’m not learning it for the first time and I’m looking at it from a wider perspective that allows me to see how it all fits together and makes sense.
I also learn a lot from my students about what it means to love – unconditionally and always. Some students are easy to love: they always do their homework and I don’t have to tell them twice to take notes. I was surprised at how easy it was to love their counterparts too: including the class clowns, the lower-achieving students, and the ones that try to sidetrack the class by being all-too-interested in my personal life. I love them in spite of – or perhaps because of – their silly antics, their sassy authenticity, and even the generally weird things that they do. They make me laugh every day, and how lucky I am to have job where that is so.
Believe it or not, teachers aren’t in it for the money…we’re not even in it for the summers off…we’re there because we are head over heals in love with the kids that we teach. When recounting funny stories or inspiring moments at school, we refer to our students as “our kids” and we brag about them as if they were our own, too. They jokingly call me “mom”…or maybe they’re only half-joking because I always get a few cards from my students on mother’s day.
Perhaps you can imagine my students’ reaction, about two weeks ago, when I informed them that I’m moving back to California and that I will not be their teacher next year. I think my favorite response was “but I’m gonna die if you leave!!!” They might be a little dramatic, but it’s precious nonetheless. It’s been an emotional time, but I recognize that I am incredibly lucky to have something that makes leaving so difficult.
In my job description, I’m required to teach them the math curriculum. But what they don’t tell you is that you simultaneously need to show these teenagers that they are loved, to build off their strengths, and to believe in them. People can do amazing things when they know that someone believes in them. Maybe they are “just” teenagers, but who says that will stop them from changing the world for the better? I know they can, because they’ve already changed mine.
That’s an observation made about me way more often than I’m comfortable with. People, like you people, seem to only remember their youth as wild and fun and free and then you meet your significant other and everything is happily ever after. That seems to be the general story that keeps surfacing as I ask older co-workers and friends about their twenties. Maybe that’s just your hindsight talking, but thus far, my twenties have been defined by feelings that swing from “lost, confused, and scared about the uncertainty of my future” to “I’m young and independent! I’m going to travel!”
Being in your twenties is hard. I’ve moved to different places every few years, so I don’t have a clear sense of where to call home. I long for the day when shoe boxes are not my dominant mode of storage. Every day I strive to seem “put-together”, but that’s pretty close to the LAST word that I would use to describe my life. I mean, I have NO idea what I’m doing. Everything is nebulous and I am constantly hoping for blue skies on the horizon. And then to add on top of that, the most ridiculous things happen to me. Like when I got a concussion from colliding heads while playing ultimate Frisbee, booked my flight back to California for Christmas while concussed, mixed up 7am and 7pm, consequently missed my flight, and ended sleeping in the Boston Logan airport on Christmas Eve. But I guess that experience wasn’t so bad, because I then intentionally booked flights that involved spending the night in the airport on both my going to and return trip from a week on the Yucatan Peninsula to visit my older brother. I loved getting a tan in February, running on the soft sand, and swimming in the crystal clear blue waters…but when you get home from vacation, you just want to sleep in your own bed.
Well… that following week – and this was in the dead of winter – my roommate informed me that our water pump somehow burst and the crawlspace under our house was flooding. We didn’t know how to turn off the water, and our snowbird landlord is in Florida and not answering our frantic phone calls. (Turns out, the knob is in the front yard, under the bird bath, logically.) Hours later, a plumber informs us that we will have no heat and no water for at least a week and to find another place to stay. For the following eight days, I shared a pull-out couch bed with my roommate in the living room of our co-worker’s little apartment. The three of us are all young teachers at the same high school, so each day we carefully planned our entrance to and exit from school so that students, who are all-too-interested in our personal lives, would not suspect that three of their teachers were essentially having a week-long slumber party.
Although it was sparked by unfortunate circumstances, it ended up being an adventure where I grew even closer to these two friends, as we lived every moment together in a small apartment that was just not made for three. It’s ironic how disasters have really redeeming qualities, like bringing people together. The fact that we never grew sick of each other is certainly a testament to our friendship. And despite the introverted part of me that screamed for even just a little personal space during that time…I really had a blast, despite the inconvenience of not being able to go inside my own house. I don’t wish for any more disasters, but I do hope that more of my life unfolds with as much mess and grace as those eight days.
These mishaps taught me that life carries on, despite the turmoil. And, well, life carries on despite inner turmoil as well. To be candid, the constant inner conflict of an uncertain future is exhausting, but being in your twenties is also a really beautiful time. I’m balancing my simultaneous need for independence on the one hand, and interconnectedness on the other. Also, I am free to choose just about anything: to chase my dreams and to travel boldly. All my belongings fit in two suitcases, and I’m not tied to anyone or anything. I’m trying to appreciate the fact that I’m not forced to follow in any one path; I have the freedom to choose ANY path that I want…I just wish I had a little more direction. All I want is to connect to my fellow human beings in a meaningful way.
The truth that I’m finding is this: we all have big dreams. Dreams that are often too big to utter aloud because it’s scary to want something so badly and because it’s scary to consider that maybe some of these dreams were never meant to intersect with reality. I fight this constant war between my heart that tells me to fearlessly pursue my passions, to figure out life’s big questions and this other part that tells me to play it safe, to settle with a job, and to build a life and place to call home.
Where in the world will my life take me next? I’m excited to find out.