By Kendall Vogts
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” While I am one to sing this from the mountain top, while wearing a turtleneck with graphics of fall-colored leaves and scarecrows, sipping on my pumpkins spice latte from Starbucks, others might disagree. As the stores pump out fall-themed decorations, halloween costumes, spooky movies and children’s books, pumpkin spiced cookies, Pop Tarts, cupcakes, pudding, and coffee, I can not help but get excited! Fall is my favorite season. I love the cool weather that allows me to wear boots and scarves, and as a teacher and coach, there are many things that fall brings to the school year that fill me with so much joy!
I find myself getting lost in coaching cross country and doting over my runners, and I love celebrating the victories of my students who play football, volleyball, and cheer. Also, as a wife to a high school teacher, I find myself enjoying the triumphs of his students, as well! In all of the excitement, I think it is easy to ignore, or completely cover up, anything negative. However, it has been brought to my attention that in all of the joys of fall and the ever-busy school year, there are students at every level who are struggling.
While many students try to cover up their struggles by internalizing them, the honesty and bluntness of students, at least my students, bring all of their daily pains into clear view. I gave my eighth grade students an assignment to write a personal narrative essay. The topic for their personal narrative was a memory from their past that impacted their life in a positive or negative way. Some chose topics like: an incredible vacation, the day their siblings were born, or the first time they went hunting with their dad. Others chose things like: the days leading up to my parents’ divorce, my nanna getting cancer, family members dealing with drug abuse, or moving in with my foster family.
In their innocence and honesty, which I’m sure most people speculate as to whether those qualities truly exist in kids today or not, they have bared their souls to me. They have entrusted me with memories so personal, so negative, and it makes me want to just stop what I am doing and hug all of them. Many of us see middle school students, grade schoolers, or high school age students as difficult, shallow, rude, out of control, entitled, or any other stereotype that these age groups have, but for many of the students, there are reasons as to why they are the way that they are.
I became a teacher, not because of the “great” salary that I would receive for the rest of my life, but because I wanted to make a difference in my students’ lives the way a particular teacher from high school had influenced mine. However, the longer I teach and coach, the more I realize that I am a teacher because I need to know that at least the 125 students and 30 athletes at my school that I see everyday, which is still only about ⅓ of our student population, feel loved. My heart aches for my students every day; not only for the students who are clearly going through something difficult, but every single kid. I want them to feel love, I want them to know that they are cared for, that they can be and do anything that they could ever want, that they are my “kids” and I would go to battle for them, and that for this year, I want to be around no one else but them.
Fall, the time of the year when nature feels its death creeping up, slowly, crawling across the land, I feel life! The crisp air and warmness of the fall colors fill me with joy, eagerness, and I am revived. That is what I hope to give to my students. May I be their pumpkin spice, their fall-themed decorations, the jack o’lanterns, and the leaf piles that fill them with the wonder of, “I’m a kid, and I’ll jump into this wonderful unknown when I am ready.” And let me be, for them, assurance of, “If I am positive, there can only be good things to come!” Fall, the back to school season can be torturous for students, or it can be safe and inviting, and I am hoping that in my classroom, my students feel nothing less that genuinely loved.
Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to the luckiest man alive, Wichita Family Magazine publisher Todd Vogts.