When I became a first-grade teacher I knew that it wouldn’t be an easy job. But what I never imagined was that these kids would end up teaching me more than I could ever teach them. And it’s good that I never imagined that because it hasn’t happened at all.
That’s not to say that these kids haven’t taught me anything. For instance, one of my students used to have trouble getting all the way across the monkey bars on the jungle gym. But she kept trying every day, even when the other kids laughed at her, and finally she made it. I consider that to be a poignant lesson about perseverance and never giving up on your dreams.
Now here is a very partial list of things that I have taught her: addition, subtraction, what a square is, what a triangle is, what a rectangle is, all five of the senses, the importance of sharing, basic units of measurement, how to make a Venn diagram, the names and characteristics of over thirty different types of animals, how to read a clock, and—oh, yeah—how to read.
As you can see, it’s not even close.
I don’t mean to disparage these kids. The fact of the matter is that I come to school every day with the sole objective of teaching them, while they, conversely, only come to school because their parents forced them to. I plan out my lessons in detail, strategize about how to hold their attention, and reinforce what they have learned using activities and exercises. I am an unstoppable teaching machine, whereas my students are like a different kind of machine that just happens to do a little bit of teaching inadvertently. Like a laptop that you can cook eggs on because it gets so overheated or something.
And yes, sometimes it does go both ways. Did I overcome my fear of rejection and sign up for online dating apps because these kids taught me how to be confident in my own skin? Sure. But one could argue that they did that unintentionally and that it actually took quite a bit of conjecture on my part to draw that lesson out of their general behavior. You would be hard-pressed to say that when they wrote “Mr. Budin U are our faverit [sic]” in crayon on a piece of construction paper their intention was for me to take out my phone and start messaging single women aged 27-33 in a five-mile radius. So, really, that was more of a lesson that I taught myself, with an assist from these kids.
Should people really get credit for teaching things by accident? It’s not for me to say. I don’t make the rules, I’m just a teacher.
Although now that I think about it, the very idea that these kids could teach me more than I can teach them gets me a little hot under the collar. I went through four years of college and two years of graduate school and took on a mountain of debt to become a teacher, and if any one of those little snots thinks that he is going to teach me half as much as I teach him, he’s got another thing coming. If that ever happened I’d quit out of embarrassment and then nobody would be teaching anybody anything.
The other day a kid asked me, “Why isn’t birds my friends?” Was that supposed to be some kind of half-assed lesson? What the hell does it even mean? He’s going to have to try a lot harder than that if he wants to teach me something. And for the record, that same kid couldn’t name a single one of the days of the week before this school year started. Now he knows all seven of them. I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to I could count each of those days as a separate thing I taught him. Me: seven. Kid: zero.
To that point, by my rough calculations, I have taught these kids a total of 4,268 things, which averages out to 304.86 things per student, while they have taught me approximately 4.5 things total, and that’s if I’m being generous. The entire school year has been a blowout of epic proportions, as I jumped out to a huge lead on the very first day of class and never looked back. By every conceivable measure, I out-taught these kids.
And if you ask me, there is nothing more rewarding than that.