What Teaching, Taught Me

April 9, 2010·
me (far right) with one of my English classes

Some of you know and some of you don’t know, that I was a high school English teacher for two years in Richmond, Virginia.

I didn’t go to college to be a teacher, it just sort of, well, happened. I stumbled upon it. (The explanation of how I really got the job is another story for another day).

Regardless, it was by far the most liberating, challenging, rewarding, fun, [insert other adjective here], experiences of my short life. Although I’m not teaching, nor am I living in Richmond anymore, the students that I taught for those two years had such a great impact on me – so much so that I still keep in contact with many of them.

When you spend as many hours a week with these students as I did, you learn so much about them and their lives. You learn who’s popular, what sports they like, favorite songs, boyfriend and girlfriend drama, who’s taking whom to prom, what their goals are, etc. For many of my students, in addition to being their teacher, I became a mentor and a sounding board.

There were countless students that I didn’t even have on my official roster that would come into my classroom on a daily basis and talk to me or just want to say hey.

Well, in the last month and a half, tragedy has struck the Hermitage HS community twice. Two students, both of whom made an impact on my life in addition to the lives of so many other students, passed away at two separate times. Knowing what death and loss feels like, I grieve along with the Hermitage community. Young lives gone too soon. To the friends and families of Jackson and Drew, know that I’m thinking about you. You will get through this.

In addition to teaching English, I was the photojournalism/yearbook teacher. At the end of the year last year, I wrote a “Farewell from the Adviser” note and published it in one of the back pages of the yearbook. I pulled my copy of 2009 Panthian out today, read it and I just cried. I needed that.

And so, I thought it would be fitting to share it with you, for no other reason than I felt it needed to be shared.


It’s hard to explain to someone on the outside, exactly what it is like to be a yearbook adviser. It’s hard enough explaining what it’s like to be a high school teacher, who looks like a high school student. My two years at Hermitage have been short, but I have learned more in the past 670+ days than I think I have in my entire 23 & 3/4 years of life. On the day of my interview for my job at Hermitage, Mrs. Saunders and Mrs. Montgomery said to me, “How would you feel about also becoming the yearbook adviser?” I had told them that I was on yearbook staff when I was younger and that I would definitely be interested in the position. Well, when I came into work on my first day, smack dab in the middle of my schedule I noticed that I had photojournalism 5th block. I was naive, idealistic, and frankly, had no idea what was in store for me.

Being yearbook adviser has easily been the most challenging thing I have ever experienced in my life. [Students: you have no idea how hard it is to create this thing you’re looking at. Cherish it. Love it. Don’t throw it away, please.] Hundreds of hours are spending designing pages, taking and choosing pictures, writing stories, editing captions, editing captions again, getting quotes, placing quotes, finalizing spreads, getting proofs, fixing the spreads again, and maybe having to fix the same spread a 7th time. The details involved in putting together a yearbook are innumerable. And that’s the easy part. There is also this “other” part of being a yearbook adviser that no one tells you about. The part where you have to train, motivate, educate, organize, and empower 24-30 TEENAGERS into making the actual thing. Nope, no one tells you about that.

Well, on a sunny day in September of 2007, I walked into photojournalism on the FIRST day of school, (also my first day teaching, ever) and I had no idea that already, every single kid in that room hated me. The yearbook had gone through a lot of turnover with advisers and I was predisposed to be Enemy #1. As I read my syllabus to the class, I could hear the grumbling and I could feel 25 sets of eyes rolling. As I continued to read, the class became more and more agitated and I had no idea why. Suddenly, two students walked out of the room. I looked up, and if looks could kill, I would have been about eight feet under by that point. I knew right away that what I was facing would be a challenge. I also knew that it couldn’t get worse… right? [BTW: of course they eventually grew to love me, or tolerate me. I’m not 100% sure which.]

I don’t want to ramble and rehash old details of yearbooks-past, but I do want to tell you what I’ve learned. I learned about people and how to cope with differing personalities. I learned how to take every moment in stride. I learned how to instill a sense of leadership in those who had no clue as to what being a leader meant. I learned how to take the bad and roll with the good. I learned how to accept me for ME. I’m young, I look young, and I love to laugh and make people laugh. I had accepted that and I wouldn’t want to be any other way. However, I also learned how to stand up when I know I’m right and accept it when I know I’m wrong.

To the faculty, staff, and administrators: thank you for supporting me. Thank you for letting me vent when I needed to vent. Thank you for making me laugh when I needed a laugh. Thank you for all the advice, mentoring, friendships, doughnuts, popcorn on Fridays, stepping, and lunches. You are all incredible educators and the students at Hermitage are blessed to have you in their lives.

To my students: thank you for teaching me. I hope that I have taught you a little something. Whether it’s what you should order from Chipotle [and that Chipotle is WAY better than Qdoba or Moe’s], whether it’s how to navigate the subways of New York City, or how to “blend in” when creeping on people for a picture. In the end, it is my hope that I have taught you to never settle. Accept yourself for who you are and embrace every part of it. Don’t change for something else because you think you have to. All of you are incredible young adults: bright, funny, smart, and confident. Don’t ever forget that, because I will never forget you.

In the school of improv comedy [yes, I do comedy] we are taught the philosophy of “Yes, and…” – meaning to accept every offer by saying, “YES!” and then to build upon that offer with something new and wonderful. My time here at Hermitage has been one big moment of “Yes, and…,” and I will continue to “Yes, and…” every moment from here on out.

Go Panthers!

-Ms. Molly Buckley

Well, and that brings us to present day. Dear Hermitage, I miss you.

QUESTION: What event/job/experience in your life taught YOU the most?