This was the second year that my dear friend and mentor Mr. Larsen, my once Honors English teacher and now friend, has asked me to come teach his Honors English classes about The Great Gatsby. And just like last year, this was my favorite day. This year even more than last year. These Honors students are truly spectacular. They were actively listening to me, they participated and talked with me (even in first period at 8 in the morning, something I can’t even say I do in school), and they fought what I said and we came up with new ideas together.
Teachers, back me up on this. There is nothing at all in this world more encouraging and meaningful than when you see a light spark in a student’s eyes based on something you’ve said. Seeing a moment when you say something that can have the power to fundamentally change someone is so incredible. Or seeing someone begin a lecture half listening and ending in rapt attention with a hand in the air, begging to share their ideas with respectful people who will listen to them.
This happened a few times to me today and my heart has never felt more full. I felt comfortable speaking to these kids, but of course there will always be a level of nerve in sharing something that is so vital to you, like this book is for me. And come on, it’s High School. For some reason my desire to impress high schoolers has grown exponentially since I was actually in school. I wanted to look pretty so these kids would respect and listen to me. I wanted to seem cool and approachable. I wanted to be heard by the quiet kids who might not ordinarily speak.
I think I was. After each lecture, a good majority of the students came up and thanked me for coming to talk to them. One girl told me that I completely changed her opinion of the book, that she can’t wait to read it again. Another told me that I was so funny and that I should come teach at the school. One said I had pretty hair and great style. “You’re just so legit! You’re so cool! I just looked at my watch and saw that the lecture was ending and got so sad that I couldn’t stay and listen to you. Thank you so much for coming.”
Teachers, after a day like this, do you go home crying? Because I did. These kids touched me so deeply in my soul and reminded me why reading and English and discussion of ideas is so important. It forges these amazing connections. I love sitting in my English classes and being able to talk freely with my instructors, knowing my ideas are being respected and heard. But being on the other side of that, knowing these kids are soaking up everything I say and sharing in my obsession and letting it morph into their own, is so so cool. Life changing really.
After the teaching was done, Mr. Larsen and I evaluated the day. I expressed my joy at how the day went and assured him I’d be back next year. I also said I hoped I never came off as pretentious or “holier than thou.” What he said sort of amazed me. He said he could tell I was self-conscious about coming off as pretentious and that I would never need to worry about feeling that way. He said I had a natural gift for teaching and relating and being. I seemed honest and approachable and open. An expert, but an expert eager to learn and grow with my students.
And then I walked to my car and cried for the entire ride home. I think I’ve found a calling. I want to reach the world through words on a page and words hand delivered to open ears.
Thank you so much to these students for hearing me today and pushing me. Thank you to Mr. Larsen for being the single most lovely man I know, a true Nick Carraway and a stand up man. Thank you to every single teacher who has respected me and helped me grow. Thank you thank you thank you.