I am a homeroom teacher. And this was a year of being a homeroom teacher. No adjectives. It was just one day. And then another day. And sometimes one of those days ploughed into the next day, the way cars can smash into each other on an icy Michigan freeway after just a moment of carelessness.
This was the year I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if a student had dyed their hair (because it was my job to send them home, call their parents, and make sure they dyed it back to black before they could take another class), or calling mothers and fathers and explaining that yes, technically, eyelash extensions are a form of makeup. It was the year I realised that having enough time to talk about how it’s a waste of time to use lots of time to write lesson plans was, now that I think about, also a huge waste of time.
This was the year I read other teachers’ blogs and thought, wow, here are all these new voices–to me–saying all these things I admire and helping to keep me going (Hana Tichá, you are amazing; David Harbinson, I am a huge fan, please keep doing what you are doing).
This was the year I would get a mention on FaceBook (Sandy Millin), a trackback on my blog (Anne Hendler, Anna Loseva, Ljiljana Havran), or see a Tweet (that’s you Colm and Mike) and think, oh, I have not disappeared from the world, I am not transparent. And all of you who worked to keep me connected, I thank you.
It was the year I took class notes and more class notes and maybe, once a month, I snapped at my co-workers and hid out in an empty classroom and tried to catch up on what was going on with my students when it came to English.
But for all this, it was not a bad year. In all those days piling up one after another, I learned some things. Some things I want to share as the New Year starts, because they were small gifts that my students and their parents and my coworkers and friends gave to me.
– Parents know about their sons and daughters, they want to talk honestly about their sons and daughters, they appreciate when you give them that chance. This year I sat down with a handful of parents and told them that I was worried. I was worried that their child could not screen out the normal noise of a classroom enough to concentrate. Or that their child could not get half way through a short sentence without forgetting the first two words of that sentence, in either Japanese or English. Or that their child felt so much pressure about studying, that they didn’t want to leave the school when it was time to close the shutter at 7PM. I had a lot of hard talks. I was met with a lot of tears and shed tears of my own. And almost every single time, the mother or father sitting across from me said, “Thank you for noticing what is happening with my child.” Honestly, it might be kind of nice to work in a job where there were less tears, less sudden intakes of breath like the whoosh of someone losing their breath after being punched. But now I know that honestly and clearly providing the small details of a student’s life, to both a parent and the student themselves, is part of what it means to be a teacher. And when the conversation is hardest, when I would rather be doing anything than sitting down with a mother or father to say what I am about to say at 7 PM on a Friday night, I can feel grateful that there is no way to run away from this moment. That this is my job. That this is what it means to be a homeroom teacher in Japan, and probably in the rest of the world as well.
– There are an infinite number of ways to be right about something. There are also an infinite number of ways to be wrong about something. When listening, thinking about any of those rights and wrong is nothing more than jamming fingers into your ears. Keeping track of all those rights and wrongs is, very simply, a way to NOT listen. How strange, to finally understand at the age of 43, 15 years into teaching, 10 years into a marriage, 7 years into being a father, that before I can expect someone to listen to me, I must first listen to them.
– The space needed to grow as a person often feels exactly like the distance which leaves you cut off from others and standing alone. This year, when I was overwhelmed, when I needed one more day to get a spreadsheet of student grades completed or a new version of a vocabulary sheet printed out, if I said something, my coworkers were immediately there for me. They stayed late and helped me punch in data. They made photocopies. They made sure that my students, our students, never felt cheated because their homeroom teacher was a little too green at his job, a step too slow to get done what needed to be done. But for all their help, my coworkers never jumped in and tried to save me when I didn’t ask for help. They never crowded into my space. They respected me and believed in me. There is a difference between being cut off from others and finding the room needed to grow. It is a difference in emotional nanometers, a difference that can only be measured in the response that comes when you finally ask for help.
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This year I am a homeroom teacher. Next year, if I am lucky, I will once again be a homeroom teacher. If I am, I am sure that there will still be days upon days that seem to plough one into the next. But perhaps there will be just as many days that are each a moment entirely in themselves; days startling in their clarity. And I will see them for what they are because of the lessons that my friends, co-workers, and students took the time to help me learn in 2014: watch carefully and share what you notice honestly; listen more than you speak; try to do the best you can, but don’t hesitate to ask for help. And maybe one more: every step on the journey is one more chance to say thank you, one more chance to practice gratitude.
Thank you for reading and may your 2015 be filled with health, happiness, and learning.