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This past summer, I tutored two summer school math classes for incoming freshmen in my district. I’ve tutored dozens of students in my high school career, so when I was working with these students, I wasn’t expecting anything to be different. That’s why I was so surprised when the teacher pulled me aside and told me she had given a student one of my pop-tarts. He hadn’t eaten all day. My school prides itself on being diverse, but I hadn’t considered it diverse in an economic sense until that day. I had peers who were lacking one of the basic essentials, something I took for granted, food.
I thought I had prepared myself for any tutoring scenario. I thought I knew my school district and every background it encompassed, but I was wrong. I learned there were people walking the same halls as me, even sitting next to me in class, who live in conditions I couldn’t even imagine. It was surprising and devastating.
Since this experience, my understanding of my students’ and peers’ needs have changed. I had no idea about his struggles until it was brought to my attention. I had just assumed that, like me, he had eaten breakfast that morning and dinner the night before. I couldn’t believe something like that happened in my community. The reality is, I’m going to come up against tough situations like this again, and I need to be aware that I won’t always know what others go through on a personal level, but I need to be both understanding and compassionate about it. To do that, I’ll have to free myself of judgements and expectations. Learning that one of my peers, whom I care for deeply, might not get enough food was painful. Sometimes, learning is painful. After my experience with this student, I have moved forward, continued to tutor, and will eventually teach. I will be there for students like him. As a teacher, it will be my job not only to educate children, but to do my best to make sure their environment inside the classroom is nourishing and positive because I may never know what’s going on outside of it.
The fact that I will be able to do that is what makes teaching such an amazing profession. You get to talk about the subject you love every day, watch students grow and move past their struggles, and you get to provide an escape. You get to provide an escape for 42 minutes in your room where it is possible that the only thing you want to talk about is President Hoover and you can forget about the fact that you didn’t eat breakfast, or you broke up with your boyfriend, or that you’re about to move away from all your friends. Teaching rewards the teacher and the student. I don’t know of any other profession that does that.
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