I don’t know much about being a teacher. I’ve only taught in a public school system a few times as a substitute. For several years, I homeschooled my children.
On second thought, I know one thing about being a teacher: it’s hard work. Really hard. So hard, in fact, that I changed my major from early education only a month or two into the second semester of my freshman year of college. Back then, I knew my limits.
Now, I’m a student. Again. This’ll be the third time I’ve taken on the title, having already completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. I’m a long way from that coveted piece of paper, having only finished one semester of a three year program. But I’ve already learned something.
I’ve learned a lot of things, but one particular concept keeps coming up: being a student is hard. Really hard.
When I was a kid, our parents moved us across the country. It was an adventure that turned horribly wrong for me and ended up shaping my life forever. One event that occurred was entering the third grade. I started it in one classroom, in a particular school district, in one state, and finished that same grade in a different classroom, in a different school district, in a completely different state.
Math got harder that year. As an avid reader who had no trouble at all with reading comprehension, I could not wrap my brain around mathematic formulas and story problems. I still have trouble with those things and am constantly in awe of my children who can take the most complex math classes and come out on top.
Who am I kidding? I’m just always in awe of my children. They amaze me on a daily basis with their courage in facing life and all it throws at them.
Anyway, back in the third grade, I came home with a particular math homework assignment and was struggling. My mother was attempting to help me, but my whining and complaining got loud. At one point, I distinctly remember crumpling up my paper and shouting about how stupid the whole thing was. Did I mention it was really hard?
Enter: my father.
Let me warn you that if you’re expecting a mushy father-daughter, father-hero moment to be written in the next paragraph or so, you’re going to be disappointed. Maybe he’d had a hard day. Maybe there were serious, adult worries on his mind that I wasn’t privy to. Maybe he was unhappy at having been woken from sleep by a shouting eight year old.
I honestly have no idea. He never told me what was on his mind that day. All I know is that I was on the receiving end of it.
Words were thrown about. Feelings were hurt. I cried.
He disappeared into the bathroom to shower and get ready for work, leaving my mother to deal with me. Leaving me to figure out the complexity of that math assignment.
By the time he emerged from his long shower (sometimes I think he spent so much time in there to avoid all of the hormonal drama that living with a wife and four daughters brings to one’s life), my homework was done. I was feeling better, though not amazing, about the whole experience.
“We figured it out, Dad,” I remember telling him.
His remark wasn’t one of praise. He didn’t remind me with a fatherly hug that having a tantrum never solved anything. He didn’t tell me that he knew all along I was smart enough to figure it out or remind me to thank my mother for sticking it out with me.
I walked away from that homework experience feeling…stupid.
To this day, I struggle with math concepts. I struggle with maintaining my composure when I’m frustrated with something. Not knowing how to do something still has a way of reducing me to tears. Being a student, of anything, is hard.
Even after all these years, after several accomplishments –academic, career, personal, and otherwise. I know I’m intelligent. I know that not everyone excels at everything. I know that not everyone knows all things. Being a student, of anything, is hard.
Now when I’m learning something new, I don’t tantrum, though I have been known to shed a tear or two when the assignment turns out to be something I simply can’t understand. I’ve also been known to shy away from tasks that involve so much learning that it appears a neon sign has been put above my head, shouting for the whole world to see: Look at how stupid she is! She can’t figure it out!
Now when I’m learning something new, I have a hard time being a student and reveling in the fact that what I’m doing is learning. Although I’m proud to be working toward my third degree and proud of having completed the last two, I find myself panicking at the thought that somewhere, someone, is ashamed of the fact that I wasn’t born already knowing the things I’m studying. I find myself scrambling to prove that I do know things and that this learning I’m doing isn’t that big of a deal nor does it require that much investment on my part.
When the truth is: working on this degree is hard. There are things about this academic path that I don’t know anything about. I do need to invest time and energy into learning these things so that I can improve in the writing world. It’s not something I can just skim over the top of and walk away with a genius crown.
Being a student, of anything, is hard.
With a new school year starting, I hope for two things. Three, really.
1. If you’re a parent reading this: remember that being a student of anything is hard. Sometimes, it’s really hard. Forgive your kid his or her tantrum and give that kid a hug. As a parent, it’s your job to not only help them with their homework, but to teach them how to better express their feelings than through tantrums.
2. If you’re a kid reading this: take a deep breath and keep trying. Don’t give your parents such a hard time. They may be going through something difficult right now too. Maybe your mom’s job is really hard. Or your dad is going off only a few hours of sleep. Maybe a million parenting, adult-like things have happened or are happening right now and they’re just trying to get through the day. Thank your parent –for helping you with your homework, for working, for giving you life. Being a student is hard work, but being a parent is oftentimes a thankless job.
3. I hope you have a really great school year. Whether you’re a third grader, the parent of a third grader, an adult learner, or a teacher. Study hard. Breathe deeply. Learn a lot. We’re all in this together.
Most of all, I hope you don't give up on learning. Grow as a person. Teach others. Learn much. #beyou