“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Good Morning, and welcome to 8th grade History with Mr. Bacchus. The first thing I need everyone to do is to take out your class schedule and make sure that it says Mr. Bacchus for this period. Is there anyone who doesn’t have my name on their schedule?
No? We sure? Great!!
Now I need each one of you to take a moment and thank whoever you believe in, the powers that be, or even the magic genie that granted you this wish, because you’re one of the few lucky enough to be in my history class this year.
Because there is going to be a day when you don’t feel like getting out of the bed, but you will remember that you have Mr. Bacchus today and you will be up before the alarm goes off.
One day, your boyfriend or girlfriend will break up with you in the middle of the hallway, and the news will quickly spread via social networking. But when your friend asks you if you’re okay, you’ll simply smile and say,
“I have Mr. Bacchus today.”
I couldn’t make this up if I tried. A student fell in gym class and broke his leg one year. It was an awful injury, and he was seriously hurt but refused to go to the hospital. He said it wasn’t that bad. He had Mr. Bacchus next period.
This has become my first-day-of-school opening monologue as an 8th grade teacher. It’s a nice way to break the ice. I say these words with a sense of confidence. A sense of purpose and joy comes over me the second I begin this inaugural address to my students.
And it lasts throughout the school year.
My class has often felt like a beautiful symphony (and I was the highly acclaimed maestro), but in the midst of my father falling back into addiction and my ex-girlfriend moving across the country with her new fiancé, it seemed as if I couldn’t play chopsticks in my personal life.
My father has always struggled with addiction, but this was the first time I had to face it as an adult. This time around I knew exactly why he wasn’t answering my calls, why he was asking to borrow money, and why he was nowhere to be found for weeks at a time.
Likewise, it wasn’t the first time my ex and I had called it quits either. But somehow the news of her impending move across the country with her new boyfriend—two months after our most recent breakup—had a sense of finality to it. The curtain was officially closed once I got word of their engagement.
So I began going to counseling in hopes of finding my way, and one day my counselor asked me if I could “live like I teach.” Could I take some of the things that allow me to be at peace while teaching and apply them to my life?
This is what I came up with.
1. Be yourself.
As a new teacher, you’re told not to crack a smile and to be extremely strict at the beginning of the school year. This will help you “set the tone” for the school year and show your students who is “the boss.”
The problem is that I smile all the time!
So as I tried to fight my smile with the students, they often fought against me. Whether it was Ashley throwing pencils at me or Shailia composing an essay titled “Mr. Bacchus, the Worst Teacher Ever,” my students weren’t responding well to the person I was trying to be.
Once I finally gave up that lousy advice and started smiling, joking, and being myself from the beginning, my relationships with my students began to improve.
It was a light bulb moment. Improving my relationship with my students made me realize that I have to be my genuine self in real life too. I can’t be who I think I’m supposed to be—I have to just be me.
2. Don’t hold too tightly to plans.
The projector isn’t working.
The video won’t load!
The copier is down!!
These things can happen at any given moment, and the best laid lesson plans need to be adjusted. I plan every week but know that it’s just a blueprint of how I would like things to go.
Once you arrive to school and realize the wifi isn’t working, you have two choices: You could continue forward with your lesson hoping the wifi genie magically shows up and the website you were going to use will somehow work, or you can change your plans.
Learning to be fluid with my plans allows my classroom to flow with a certain ease. If I want that same ease in my personal life, then I have to understand that the Universe has a way of turning our plans upside down too. I need to be able to adapt and adjust just like I do when little Johnny throws up in the middle of the classroom during third period.
3. Don’t get stuck on the negative.
I planned what I believed would be an awesome lesson incorporating a Nas rap song into our coverage of Ancient African Empires.
As I could barely contain my excitement, one of my students couldn't seem to care less. He made unrelated comments, disturbed others, and left me feeling like the lesson was a complete failure.
Later that afternoon, a group of students were leaving the school singing the song I used in the lesson. I inquired about the song choice, and they said how much they enjoyed it and thought it was cool how I tied it in.
Here I was basing my perspective on one person while ignoring the reactions of the other thirty students in my classroom. How often in life do we only focus on the negative aspect and fail to notice the good all around us?
We can always find the bad in our life experiences, or we can choose to find the good. I try and find the good every day. The entries in my daily gratitude log help me to focus on the daily good, like the students that remembered the song, not the one who didn’t.
4. Each day is new.
My first two years of teaching inundated my life with stories about something one of my students did, said, etc. I couldn’t wait to run and tell family and friends about my adventures as a teacher.
As time passed, those stories became less and less unique, and I found myself looking at the days and the students as the same old blur. I had seen it all. The students, lessons, and days were starting to become a haze of gray.
My friends and family would ask for new stories, and I had nothing. “It’s going” became my simple response to the question “How is teaching?”
The reality is that each year I get different students, who will do different things, during each day of the year, every period of the day.
I have to be aware of how much beauty and joy lies in that variety and appreciate the newness of it all, or else I will become like so many teachers who have lost their excitement for what they do.
I try my best to see the newness of each student and each class every day because I don’t want to lose my passion for teaching.
I also don’t want to lose my passion for life. I’m now starting to see that I have to find the newness of each moment in each day so that “it’s going” doesn’t become my answer to “How’s life?”
5. It’s okay to laugh.
Theodore Roosevelt set up the National Park System so that he could conserve the National Booty of America. Yeah, you read that right. I said National Booty instead of National Beauty. The kids laughed hysterically and I cracked up laughing too.
The truth is, school is funny.
There are too many moments that deserve a good laugh during the course of a school day. I can deny it or I can let out one of the few things guaranteed to increase my mood. I have chosen to increase my health and vitality by laughing in school.
And also in life. Because just like the classroom, there are so many funny things to laugh at in this world! To deny laughter would be to deny one of the basic parts of pleasures in life.
Three years ago I was blessed to receive the “Teacher as a Hero” award from the National Liberty Museum. I would have never thought the things that made me a “Teacher as a Hero” award winner would also help me to emerge from one of the toughest times in my life a better person.
All I had to do was start living like I teach.