The students poured into my classroom. I wasn't ready. I didn't choose to be a teacher. Everything had been chosen for me— the school, the subject, the textbooks, and even my clerical clothes. I NEVER wanted to be a teacher, yet here I was, a young Jesuit Scholastic, working at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. I had begged for parish work, or better, an assignment out of the country. I felt ill-prepared. The students terrified me.
School had been a war zone for me as a student, and I hadn't recovered. Within a few minutes of class starting, a student in the front row started mocking other students. As a victim of bullying, I had to take a stand. I took him into the hallway and said firmly, "This does NOT happen in my classroom."
I then told the class that we were going to recite together a prayer that I had recited a thousand times. I started and no one joined me. I became so self-conscious that I lost my place in the prayer and started repeating stanzas. I gasped for air and said Amen. The students stared at me in confusion.
I told the students to get into small groups. A small student in the front row had her heavy backpack hanging from her desk. When she rotated her desk, the desk fell, trapping her. Students started laughing. Humiliated, she started crying.
As I was trying to lift up the desk, I thought, "Oh my God. How am I going to survive this?" I made it through my first day and lived to teach another day, and another. My Jesuit superiors saw that I had the capacity for being a teacher, even though I could not see it in myself. I did not choose to teach that first year, but I chose to teach the next. In time, I became more competent and learned to love the students and the craft of teaching.
Parker Palmer writes, “Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” I’m grateful for all of the beautiful patterns that I have helped to create and witness over the years.