As I sit at a desk for and hour and a half proctoring students taking a Geometry final I can't help but remember what it was like to be in their non-regulation backless shoes.
As a teacher at my own high school there are many days when I experience bizarre mind trips in which I am instantly transported back to the being the scrawny awkward teenager who refused to tuck in her shirt and had 75 tardies in one quarter.
But the awkwardness of teaching alongside my old teachers is all worth it when my students look back at me with intrigue as I lecture on the complexities of oxidative phosphorylation.
Their intrigue of course extends beyond science to my personal life. They speculate as to how I spend my weekends.
They ask me to come to their plays, sporting events, semi-formals.
When my dad starting working at the track meets they begged him to bring in pictures of me or to tell them embarrassing stories about me from high school. Thankfully my Dad considered his pay for working the track meet enough to cover his silence on such matters.
Oh, and they get class pets and name them after Jeremiah and I.
Yup, you heard it. Jet-Man and Ms. O, the AP Biology class geckos.
Because my school schedule was so hectic this past year, Jeremiah would sometimes drive into Boston on a weeknight to sit in the stands with me for an hour or so while I coached/spectated my track team. Well, needless to say the track kids got to know Ms. O'Connor's boyfriend. I didn't realize the degree to which they were fans of Jeremiah until one day when I was giving a lecture on Signal Transduction Pathways and one of my students raised her hand and said, "Ms. O, I heard your boyfriend is smokin hot' ".
To be honest I was taken aback by the comment. I told them I had agree, and then took a good 5 minutes to get the students back on topic.
Soon they christened Jeremiah "Jet-man" a nickname that means nothing but sounds cool, and shortly thereafter we had geckos named after us. Someday I will tell you about the tragic fate of those geckos, but that's a whole other blog post.
Some say that immitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I would argue that idolization in the form of class pets is one step better.
I have been fortunate to have the greatest students. Even on their worst of days they are smart, exuberant, fun to be with, and work to do well in my class.
Teaching is truly the job that I never knew I always wanted. Not because the students idolize me, because that comes and goes at best. It's because every day I come to school and have the opportunity to love these girls. And not with the dribbly, sappy, "everything you do is great" kind of love, but the kind of love that says, "Life is hard, but you're smart enough to take it one step at a time and grow into an intelligent individual." Some of these kids need someone that is in their corner cheering for them, but also pushing them to work harder. And they love me back. Some days work and life is just overwhelmingly stressful and I see that God uses these adolescents to encourage me and to re-orient me. I'm here to serve them, but they serve me too and frequently give me the laughter, encouragement, and motivation I need to make it through the day. And the stories, man do I have stories.
Just like with adults, a little bit of encouragment, a great deal of accountability, and a belief in their abilities to excel goes a long way with high school girls. Especially if you're wearing Chuck Taylors. They love my sneakers.