This is a weekly series written by Emma Dellopoulos, chronicling her work with an interactive workshop between Elizabeth Tate Alternative High School in Iowa City and Hammond High School in Hammond, Indiana.
I will tell you, I have met some of the most bizarre, immature, caring, hilarious, and twisted souls teaching this class. The kids are so much fun to be around, and have an energy that is genuinely inspiring. But I also feel completely out of my element when I teach.
I don’t know if this is something that everyone who teaches high schoolers feels or experiences ever or always, but it isn’t easy to stand in front of unrelenting sarcasm-machines with a chip on their shoulder that is every high school-aged child that has ever existed. Their headspaces are tumultuous and pliable, which makes for weeks that vary by day and days that vary by hour.
In reality though, I’ve come to have expectations of each of the kids I work with. I know which ones are self-reliant and which ones need more guidance. I found that individual conversations will always pull participation from even the most reluctant of attitudes.
In contrast to knowing my kids, I often have no idea what’s going on in my parallel universe, at Hammond. Sometimes, it feels like I’m talking to a dead line. On the other side of that dead line, though, is 150 other students that are producing work.
These are personalities I’ve never encountered, both in students and teachers. It’s created a sense of longing to know people that I have very little access to. I can read their work, but I’ll only know the very cursory detail. I get that detail from only one teacher, and that’s because she’s my friend and we talk often.
There’s even a sense of jealousy that I’ve found in myself. I’m constantly comparing myself to my co-teachers, while also trying to provide daily encouragement and advice. I’m often asking myself “why aren’t my kids producing the same caliber of work?” Then, I have to remind myself that my colleagues are certified teachers- I’m not.
Co-teaching has a series of obstacles in which I’m still learning to overcome. Learning and teaching is something that has been inseparable for me- they aren’t mutually exclusive concepts as I imagined they were as a student.
There is a dichotomy in me, though, as a student and as a teacher. I will always stand in front of my students and co-teachers, learning about myself and them, feeling split.