Reflections on teaching with a broken face

October 19 2013

In 2005 I stepped into my first classroom as an official high school English teacher. Having survived the usual trials and tribulations of student teaching, non-invasive background checks, and a lengthy Los Angeles commute (is there any other kind?), I was thrilled to get to teach students in my classroom a la the tradition set for me by Hollywood. I was going to be the next Jaime Escalante or that lady from Freedom Writers. Of course that’s not really how things went down.

My first day was, to say the least, challenging. I was 22 and had 21 year old students. My first period class had 43 students and I had a few tarnished tables and chairs to seat maybe a dozen kids. There was a hole in my floor that went to who-knows-where. And–oh yeah–I couldn’t move half of my face.

A day before I started teaching I found out I had Bells Palsy. Basically, the right side of my face was paralyzed. I couldn’t blink (I was a really good winker), raise my eyebrows, or move that side of my mouth. My speech was bordering on lispy/drunken belligerent as a result. When I smiled it looked Frankenstein-like grotesque (look in the mirror and try to smile with only half of your face).

Fortunately, Bells Palsy wore off after about a month and a half. But that first day was one where superficial moves like smiles and normal eye contact were thrown out the window. And yeah, the school I taught at had some dilapidated challenges too: the conditions my students were expected to learning (did I mention the mousetraps behind the bookshelves?) were not only less than ideal but downright unjust.

I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot that first year. I learned that the tremendous love, resilience, and hunger for an equal education can make any space ignite with the possibilities of learning. Engaging with my students and being honest about my weird looking face meant my classroom began with a culture of openness and honesty.

The world of education in the United States has a lot of work to do. Nearly a decade after that first day of teaching I’m now helping prepare future teachers for classroom life. It’s a strange shift, sometimes. I build from my experiences looking out an unblinking right eye at a decimated classroom filled with eager students and strive for helping revolutionize the world of education.

Thanks for your time,

Fort Collins, CO

(btw, thanks for reading. As an English education professor now, I usually only get to write fancy schmancy academic articles. If you’re interested in learning more about learning, educational equity, and ways I’ve integrated gameplay into schools check out my blog – TheAmericanCrawl. There also aren’t many Antero’s out there so I’m easily google-able if you would like to email me or tweet me @anterobot)

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