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Sam and Antonise. My only two students who had perfect attendance that semester. It was ENG 394 (The Rhetoric of Identity)—fall 2018—and near the last day, I took note.
“Sam, congratulations. You had perfect attendance.” I look down at my gradebook. Antonise’s attendance column boasts all checkmarks.
“You too, Antonise. Good job! You’re my future teachers,” I smile.
I first met Samantha Alvarado and Antonise Crane in ENG 217 (Writing Reflective Essays) the semester prior. I knew early on that they both wanted to be teachers.
Sam expressed her love for writing and teaching at my office hours. We sat face to face as she told me that she wanted to make a difference.
Antonise, little by little, shared with the class in 217 about her goal to be a teacher. And there was one paper she wrote near the end of the semester where she made the characters “anonymous.”
“You were Annie, weren’t you?” I asked, as I handed back her piece. She had written about motives for teaching, interviewing other aspiring teachers—and included a last section about herself (aka “Annie”). The traits that Annie had, I already saw in Antonise: love for knowledge, curiosity, a desire to open up dialogue, a willingness to sacrifice in order to make a change.
“Yeah,” she laughed, as her body joined in unison.
Antonise spoke to me later about how her sense of curiosity will affect her future teaching. She envisions herself “being curious about students’ ideas; welcoming individuality and curiosity.” And she has been vocal—in class and in her writing—about low salaries in the teaching profession. In essence, she’s well aware that money will be tight. And although she wishes there was more value placed on teaching, the challenges don’t dissuade her from the call she feels to teach.
Sam shares the same heart for teaching. “I just knew since I was young that I wanted to be a teacher,” she remarked. One of the traits I most saw in Sam (in both classes I had her in) was compassion. She had an ability to listen to others and ask questions of their experiences. She would, in a sense, draw out (of other students) more reflection. I can remember her often saying things like, “I understand” or “I’ve been through something different—but it’s similar in some ways.” When I interviewed her, she told me that she “likes to talk.” And she commented on how this aptitude translates into her goals for teaching: “I want to be able to have a conversation with my students—not talk to them, but with them. I want my students to know their opinion is actually valued.”
Sam, like Antonise, wants to teach English to high school juniors. She expressed that she “wants to create movement in her classes” (for example, acting out Shakespeare). She also likes the idea of watching movies because it “gives students a picture.”
When thinking about her future classrooms, Antonise spotlighted the importance of care and connection: “I really care about other people. Teachers are very influential in the lives of students. Some students see their teachers more than they see their parents.” She likes the idea of a small classroom community and wants to “inspire students to be better.” She believes in the importance of students being who they are and noted her desire for a tight-knit classroom community. She said of her future classes, “I’m a very big people person. I want the environment to be very open. Like this is our classroom.”
We never know what will happen—but as we show up and hear others' stories—we recognize the essential truth that we can all be heard.
In fact, when I asked Antonise and Sam what comes to mind when they think of the classroom as a Location or a Place, they both reinforced the idea of coming together, of unity. Antonise stated, “I’ve always wanted a classroom where it’s a community and students actually want to get to know each other and participate.” She also spoke to the importance of modeling empathy. And Sam expressed, “I want my class to be a safe haven in terms of their thoughts and opinions. I want them to know they can have someone actively listen to them and be able to understand their perspective. My kids can have differences but still be able to unite together in the classroom.”
Antonise and Sam will both graduate in English education from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College soon enough (Antonise in Spring 2020; and Sam in Spring 2021).
Getting to know these young ladies has touched my heart. Developing bonds with them, and watching them forge connections and friendships with their peers, reminds me that the classroom is relational. Yes, I’m happy that they love English and love to write. I do too. But talking to them has pointed out what I see as the richest thing about teaching. It’s not the money or the As. It’s not even the “perfect attendance,” really. It’s the power in showing up, even on the hard days. Of listening to our peers. Of being open to the dialogue and connection that comes.
If I have seen anything from these young ladies, it’s that they’re committed. Despite obstacles in life, they’re willing to show up.
This cliché actually locates a powerful notion about the place of the classroom: we never know what will happen—but as we show up and hear others’ stories—we recognize the essential truth that we can all be heard. We all have stories. In literature, in writing, in life; we’re all in search of meaning. The classroom affords us that space. For teachers and students, it’s a place to both search and be known.
I will give Sam the last word, as her words inspire us to remember the importance of showing up: “I can’t wait to be a teacher. I can’t wait to have a kid who says, ‘I can’t wait to go to her classroom.’”
Image 1: Samantha Alvarado. Courtesy photo.
Image 2: Antonise Crane. Courtesy photo.