Teaching Students Four Years Younger Than You
When I got my first teaching job this past summer, I was absolutely shocked to find out I was teaching seniors. I was hired at age 21 and would meet these 17-19-year-olds after I turned 22! All that really separated me from my students was four years of college. While these years are significant and life-changing and I was confident in my own professionalism, I was still worried about the troubles this might bring.
- They won't take me seriously.
- They won't see me as a teacher/authority figure.
- They will hit on me.
- They will take advantage of my inexperience and age.
Despite these fears, I knew there had to be some positives about this too.
- I could connect with them easily.
- I could relate and discuss things that were important to both of us.
- I could prepare them for college.
- I could vaguely remember what senior year was like.
Both of these fears and positives were all ENTIRELY accurate. Every single fear I had was absolutely valid. There were definitely times when my age (and gender) played into the classroom, making it difficult to monitor some behavior issues and/or to be taken seriously. Even my best students took advantage of this from time to time. And there was that one time when I had helped a student out and as I walked away, he called me "cutie with a booty..." under his breath and I whipped right around and called him out on it. And apparently I have a student who is just waiting for graduation day when he can ask me out since he "knows that long-distance relationships don't usually work out" and he knows I am in one. This is all odd considering none of this attention happened to me when I was actually in high school. Awkward.
But the positives were also entirely accurate, too. As the year is wrapping up, I am starting to write goodbye notes to my students. For some of them, I am writing full letters that take me a lot of time and effort to write, especially with tears swelling in my eyes. I have had the best rapport with the majority of my students and I have really loved getting to know them and vice versa.
A positive (and a fear) I didn't expect to really have was that some of these students would become my friends. Call me a bad teacher or unprofessional, but somewhere along the lines, I found friendship in a select number of kids who have made this year possible and saved me from the hardest, most painful year of my life. I spend more time with these students than my family and my boyfriend and my friends (not really by choice, but just by reality). I'm at this really strange part of the year that I never really pictured myself in. I've spent a lot of time outside of school chaperoning senior events and bonded with students so much that when we're back in the classroom, it is a weird transition between being the teacher and being the mentor/friend. Come June 12th when the kiddos graduate, I will feel a lot less stress about this and will feel a lot more comfortable being a friend, but until then, it has been...strange! I don't know how else to describe it. I hope that I'm not the only person who has been in this situation.
I think part of this attachment lies in the fact that I don't have a family or my boyfriend or a lot of unmarried friends in the area. Ugh. Being an early twenty-something pursuing her career hours away from home is too complicated.
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