At the end of my first year of teaching, I wanted to seek out all of my junior high teachers and apologize to them. Personally, I think I was a pretty good kid---I never got in trouble for anything---and yet, I was an adolescent. I must have not been all that different from any other 7th or 8th grader. Maybe I never had detention or was sent to the office, but I'm sure I must have asked the teacher to repeat the directions (after she'd already said them three times), or been lazy with an assignment, or rolled my eyes after some comment. Ouch. I can't claim that my goal was to irritate anyone in particular, but that doesn't mean I didn't. I'd seen plenty of instances of that during my first year on the other side of the desk.
Well, I realize that most people teaching junior high like that age of kid (a stage of life where most of the time the kids don't like themselves...and you don't like them, either). They understand the quirks, joys, and frustrations of working with young adolescents and tend to have a great sense of humor about things. And just as I don't doubt that I was a fairly average junior high kid, I also know that means I didn't give these teachers anything they weren't prepared to handle.
Instead, I sometimes wish these days I could find those first junior high students I had and apologize to them for not being a better teacher. I don't know that I will ever be a master of classroom teaching, but I know I am much more skillful and knowledgeable now. Those poor kids I had 17 years ago. I wonder if I really taught them anything at all. I wish I could tell them that I don't suck quite so much anymore. The classroom is such an odd thing---it is a moment frozen in time. I remember the kids in their 15 year old form, just as they remember me at whatever age I am at the time. We don't age and change within those memories over the years. If I was a bad teacher, then that is how I'm remembered---they don't know the progress I've made over time.
I know my wish won't come true, but perhaps that's okay. Maybe I can make amends to those kids of yore in my career by being the best I can for the kids I have now. I might not be able to change the past, but I am very much in control of shaping the future for a few hundred teens this year. I hope that in another 20 years, I won't be looking back at them with the same kind of hindsight that inspires apologies. I hope we all have a reason to smile and cheer.