Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jackie Hubbard. Jackie graduated from Calvin this month with a degree in secondary English education.
It was my second week of student teaching and I was still learning my sophomores’ names. Rowan passed a piece of gum to a friend and was proudly displaying a painting of Kodak Black on the corner of his table. He asked me if the “dreams verses reality” themed essay for A Midsummer Night’s Dream was supposed to be explored literally or figuratively.
One week later, on February 16, I listened to Kodak Black while driving to a local funeral home. I stood before Rowan and hugged some of his close friends, to whom I was still very much a stranger. It felt wrong being there—who was I to show up at such a personal, intimate gathering to mourn the loss of someone I’d had one conversation with? I contemplated leaving early, embarassed by my mistake, until pair after pair of grateful eyes planted my feet.
My mentor teacher, Erin, told me teaching is one of the few jobs in which it is important to be human. It seems to me that education professionalism is perpetually paradoxical as it involves defying traditional professionalism in very unforeseeable circumstances on a near daily basis. Ideally, your students will learn from the lessons you prepare and teach, but they often learn just as much from you when you offer spontaneous motivational speeches, or laugh at your own mistakes, or let them teach you dance moves in the middle of class—or hold them at their friend’s funeral.
This semester was painfully, beautifully, utterly human for my kids. There were days when the weight of losing a friend, studying four pieces of war literature, grappling with the Parkland shooting, and participating in the walkout were all consuming; and yet, some of those days involved excessive dancing, obnoxious laughing, and passionate debating. Each day was a glorious mess that we navigated together, one opportune moment at a time.
One of the greatest lessons I learned in college is that joy and sorrow are truly inseparable, no matter how much energy we devote to disassociating them. All love seems to involve a level of sacrifice, which often results in some level of pain. The second we try to love without sacrifice is the second we have lost sight of love entirely.
My fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds appeared to understand this better than a lot of adults I know right now. Teenagers are not excused from the cultural expectation of wokeness, which is unfair to an extent, but my kids lived injustice simply because they knew they could be the next kid shot down. They bore the burden of our broken education system and learned the tricks to the game; and yet, they stepped into conversations with empathy. They processed their own experiences in shared vulnerability. They admitted to conflicting feelings about the books we read and debated their opinions civilly. They envisioned pathways to a better world together.
My kids reminded me what it means to be human this past semester, which turns out to be a pretty remarkable existence, especially when we’re committed to being human together. This motivated me to be interruptable in my lessons for the sake of invaluable moments. It made me check in with kids about things in their lives that had nothing to do with school. It led me to making it my daily goal to meet them right where they were at. They taught me to do something about my heartache because they did something about theirs.
So, for Mariah, who said that it is difficult seeing our politicians’ priorities play out—
For Ryan, who experienced the strange, inexplicable joy of seeing so much of himself in a character from a book written ninety years ago—
For Max, who told me he cried multiple times reading All Quiet on the Western Front because it was so beautifully sad—
For Rowan, whose life warranted both celebration and mourning—
I am thankful that joy and sorrow are gracefully intertwined.