Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Was More Than My Suspension — #ThankATeacher

This piece was originally published on The Synapse (Medium.com) at the end of Teacher Appreciation Week - 05/08/2015


 Image Credit: User Public Domain Pictures — Pixabay.com

When I was 17, a combination of bad choices, insecurity, and teenage stupidity climaxed into me being suspended from high school. What did I do to get the boot? I’m going to leave that out of the story for now. Although I hope to share more in the future, the culminating ‘event’ is not central to this post. Instead, I want to talk more about what happened after.

First, some context. I very much disliked high school. I suppose I put up a good front. I played varsity sports, received (not earned) decent grades, and was usually invited to front line social events. Deep down, I felt terribly out of place and alone. We were a working class family at a rich school. I lived in a different town, apart from my school and classmates. I struggled to break through the long standing groups and friendships my classmates shared. I distinctly remember spending more than a few breaks walking the halls alone or holed up in the bathroom. In short, my experience was probably similar to millions and millions of high school students. That experience didn’t feel good.

I consistently tried wild stunts and fabricated ridiculous stories to seem ‘cool’. I was a time bomb walking on glass. Sooner or later, something bad was bound to happen. One of my short-sighted antics resulted in a three-day ‘break’ from school.

Those three days sucked. My parents were disappointed. My family asked questions I didn’t want to answer. I was ashamed. Worse yet, I was scared to return to school.

I wanted to crawl into a dark hole and never come out. I didn’t want to step foot on campus ever again. I would be looked at, pointed out, and laughed at. My teachers would never see me the same. I was a pathetic failure stuck in a deep pit of self-pity and embarrassment.

Image Credit, User Geralt — Pixabay.com

I did return to school. And I was looked at, pointed out, and laughed at. I felt every conversation was about me. I felt every gaze was directed at me. I felt half of my teachers viewed me with contempt, the other half with deep concern. I felt more alone than I had before.

There were three teachers who welcomed me back — Mr. Garabedian, Ms. Williams, and Fr. Congdon. They never judged. They never stared. They never pitied. They somehow made it clear that I would be okay. I can’t recall specific words they used or actions they took. It was more a feeling they gave me. Maybe it was a smile here or a “how’s it going?” there. They let me make up my work. Ms Williams even gave me the Literature award at the end of the school year. They were warm. They were loving. I will be forever grateful.

As Teacher Appreciation Week winds down, I wanted to say thank you to those three teachers. They knew I wasn’t a bad kid. In fact, they made it clear I was the opposite. The valued me. They knew their job wasn’t to judge or condemn, to lecture, or to scream. Rather, they wanted to make me feel at home, to make me feel safe. Teaching wasn’t so much about U.S. Government or World Literature, it was about the struggling person right in front of them. They saw a talented, smart, and successful person. Although the rest of my high school career was far from spotless, they kept believing in me. You can’t express how powerful a feeling like that is.

In a small way, this trio of teachers set me down the path to my wonderful career as an educator. I know first hand teaching is more than a series of facts. My teachers proved that each child deserves to be loved, welcomed, and cared for each day at school. At its best, teaching is about building relationships with other people. Teaching is about understanding that everyone is a good kid. Some just need more love and belief than the others. When I appreciate teachers I think of my junior self. I remind myself that the eyeballs staring back at me don’t need to see the smartest man in the world. They simply need to see the same love I saw in Mr. Garabedian, Ms. Williams, and Fr. Congdon.

Bonus picture — My brother and I in high school. I am on the right.

Thanks to all the teachers out there who work so hard every day. You deserve all the praise showered on you during Teacher Appreciation Week.


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