My first year as a teacher wasn’t at all about teaching

img_8130-2School is out. It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve had to wakeup at 6am. It’s been exactly 18 days since I’ve had to wear real clothes, create a lesson plan, give instructions, (try to) discipline a child, or sit at a desk and do my best to look professional.

The last day of school, or more like the last WEEK of school, I wasn’t there. Are you following me? My body was there, but in my mind, I was laying in bed drinking coffee and scrolling through Instagram. The finish line was so close, and my momentum had crashed so hard I was practically limping across it. My first year of teaching was one of the hardest seasons of my life. I’m not kidding.. No one ever told me teaching was so hard. God grew me during this chapter of my life like nothing else ever has before. There were moments I cried after class because my emotions were being pulled every which way and I didn’t know how to process anything. There were times I had to control the kindergarteners sprinting around my class room while simultaneously catering to the little boy who felt compelled to pee his pants, while constantly having to answer the question, “Miss Warrick, why did you wear your pajamas to school?” Because life is hard. It’s just hard, okay?

My “I’m your teacher, no I can’t talk to you about my Instagram account” authoritative position was a challenging experience with my 6th graders, and having to remind them daily that being the ‘cool kid’ really isn’t that cool. I was also told that I’m not allowed to say the word “rachet” because I’m “old and it sounds weird..” Who knew?

One day, almost on the brink of tears, I went to our Assistant Principal to simply ask a question, which then led to venting because my feelings don’t know how to stay on the inside of my body. After sharing my frustrations and how exhausted I was and how I just felt like a failure and I had no idea what to do anymore, she asks, “Is this your first year teaching?”  I took a breathe and a very insecure yes came out of my mouth. The thought of being fired suddenly became a possible reality and I was certain, I mean certain, they’d pull the plug on me.

She smiles and says, “This is completely normal. You’re not a failure, you’re okay. Just keep going, and you’ll find your rhythm along the way.” I was floored. I was sure after word vomitting all of that, she’d send me home and let me know I wasn’t equipped for this job based on my lack of emotional stability. God definitely knew what I needed in that moment. She was right. I was going to be okay.

When I first jumped on board, I wasn’t prepared for what He had planned, but somehow, he took my hand and walked me through it. Even if at times he had to pick me up off the floor and tell me to stop whining, my fingers stayed intertwined with his.

And as I reflect on what my first year of teaching truly looked like, it really wasn’t about teaching. I did do that, just in case administration reads this, ( I promise I taught Art..) I discovered that my career as an Art Teacher really isn’t about teaching. This job isn’t primarily about TEKS or lesson plans or even learning.

It’s about loving kids.

It’s about showing kids the grace upon grace upon grace that God freely provides for us. It’s about how crucial it is to love first, then teach. It’s about how a student must learn to love through your teaching.

The art of loving a child is to teach the child, and the art of teaching a child is to love the child.

Each month, I had my 6th graders write me a letter. I gave them different prompts that would encourage them to reflect on who they are and how the world affects them. The first month though, I asked them to write an autobiography. “Tell me everything I need to know about you. If I don’t know you, how can I teach you?” The next day, I handed them my own autobiography, along with my vision for the class as a whole. I wanted them to know they weren’t just another class I had, that I genuinely wanted to hear their stories and how their minds worked.

At the end of the year, I organized their letters, put them in folders, and wrote them a goodbye letter. I wanted them to have something that was closer to my heart than good grades and behavioral capabilities. I wanted them to know I cherished their efforts and patience with me. I wanted them to remember how much I truly cared about each facet of their dreams and passions. Most of all, I wanted them to know I loved them.

My main goal was to translate how much I truly cared for them through my teaching, whether that was explaining to them the color wheel or just holding them while they let a good cry out. One day, I let stress get to me and I took it out on them, then had to apologize the next day. Trust me, apologizing to a group of 11 year olds is a very humbling experience.

But I did it. Because I’m human and I have emotions and sometimes I make mistakes.

I know I’m not a professional, I am very very far from that. 

But the biggest lesson I learned from my first year of teaching was this-

Most kids, maybe not all, but most, will need to feel accepted before they ever begin to listen to a word you say. They need to feel known, to be understood, to realize you care, before they accept any sort of instruction you have to offer. You could be the most educated and qualified individual on the face of this earth, but if they feel even the slightest sense of doubt from you, they’ll shut down. Some see this as a challenge and they work even harder, but some don’t. Some kids see this as a pointless endeavor where loss and disappointment meet them at the end. Or even worse, some kids see this as a sign that you don’t believe in them. This is why kids fail classes. It isn’t because they’re dumb or careless. They must know you believe in them, or they won’t try. At all. They aren’t motivated by you. You don’t care about them, so why should they care about you or anything else for that matter?

You have to show them God’s love. We have to show them how precious they are, how cherished they are, and how truly known they are by the creator of the universe. We have to. No matter how hard they are. Because you know what? We’re hard too. And listen, I know it’s stressful and you already have tons of papers to grade, you have a life. I get it. I’m right there with ya sister. But the 2nd greatest commandment after Loving God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, is to love others as you love yourself.

I discovered the true meaning of teaching isn’t about teaching at all, it’s about loving each and every child we meet because God first loved us. It’s about forgiveness, redemption, and the hope in Christ we so desperately want each of our students to have. It’s being aware of how your words and actions are going to affect a childs view of God’s character. It’s about instilling confidence and joy in your students, and letting their lights shine bright.

It’s knowing that each moment you have with a student holds purpose, and God will use that moment.

That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

Thank you,

Catie, the rookie (in desperate need of God’s grace) Art Teacher

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