What It’s Like to Teach in Southern Indiana

I am proud to announce the first commissioned post for Midwestern Transplant. This piece was written by teacher Hannah Bond Newlin. You can see her classroom Instagram at @the_fr_bulldog.

The profession I dreamed of as a fiery four-year-old girl commanding a classroom of stuffed bears doesn’t exist. Maybe it never existed. But if it did, it’s never been farther from that vision. In that world, I imagined 15 to 20 well-behaved students in an organized classroom in which I broadened their views of the world through my witty and charming lessons.

The dream hasn’t changed, although the reality of 30 to 35 students in each of my 6 classes per day, with only one 45 minute planning period, turns the tidy ideality of organization into one of those witty jokes that actually do play a part in my everyday life.

Thank God for humor in the classroom.

After my first full year of teaching, I took a 40% pay cut to move from New Orleans back to my hometown in Indiana. When I arrived, I was met with a pay freeze that lasted the entirety of my time there. No one goes into teaching to become rich. As an incoming teacher, I understood I wasn’t going to make a fortune. But after a few years of climbing the salary schedule, I anticipated being able to afford the profession. With the salary freeze, my wage remained as though I was still a first-year teacher—for six years. Instead of climbing the ladder to match my level of experience at around $42,000, I never broke $36,000 per year.

After 6 years giving everything I had teaching at my high school alma mater in rural Indiana, I moved to a nearby growing district in a small developing city. It was absolutely one of the most soul-crushing decisions I’ve ever had to make. I had made the move to take care of my family, work closer to the house we could actually afford and still make ends meet.  And last year, the first year in my new district, I struggled—managing my class load, making friends with my colleagues, and feeling like I wasn’t rising to the expectations set before me. And acronyms. So. Many. Acronyms. UDL, PBIS, HOM, IEP, and ELL were all to be considered when making my daily lesson plans, in addition to making sure the students knew how to listen, speak, read and write in a language that was not their own.

Even as I’m writing this list, I feel a stress pang bolting through my chest.

But before you get the wrong impression, I have a serious love for my job. For me, there is no bigger thrill than seeing a student who has faced challenges find success. And I’m not talking academic perfection (although that is how more and more of them are defining success). I’m talking true success in finding fulfillment, happiness, and belonging.

On a particularly difficult day last year, one of my students came in and ate lunch in my classroom. He needed to vent about his life and soak up a little bit of silence. The next couple of days, he came back. He started teaching me Spanish. Another Spanish-speaking student noticed and stopped in. She invited her Ethiopian friend, who then invited a Chinese boy from our class who had been sitting alone at lunch. Today, the lunch bunch in my classroom is continually growing. Most of the group is made of immigrant students who were otherwise sitting alone at lunch. They compare cultures, watch funny YouTube videos, talk about their day at school and their home life. Truly, it is amazing.

I did nothing but leave my classroom door open.

When I feel exhausted because someone spilled ketchup on my tables, or a kid asked a question right after I had explained the answer, or I am staring down a stack off 100+ papers I need to grade and all I want to do is hang out with my own children, I try to remember the successes like my lunch bunch. Where else would you find a community willing to talk to each other in the way they do? They rarely see eye-to-eye, but they listen. They challenge. And they truly care about each other.

The students of my classroom give me hope when the political climate feels like it is going to destroy any dream I ever had of “making a difference.” I became a teacher to help students learn. I wanted to challenge them. But truly, in most cases they are the ones who have challenged me. They make me think thoroughly and quickly. They ask good questions and demand complete answers. They expect me to listen, even when I have my own life crises to distract me. They insist on the best version of me. They are forgiving when I fail to meet their expectations, but always count on me to show up and try again.

And so, for now, I do.

Written by guest blogger and teacher Hannah Bond Newlin. Check out her classroom Instagram here: @the_fr_bulldog.

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