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Christy Wopat is a veteran educator and the author of the award-winning memoir, Almost a Mother: Love, Loss, and Finding Your People When Your Baby Dies, as well as a picture book titled Always Ours, released in May of 2020. She currently teaches 4th-grade and lives in Holmen, Wisconsin. Find her on Facebook at Um, You Guys? where she’ll make you both laugh and cry with authentic stories about teaching and adulting.
“I want to be Mr. Beast,” he said.
“Okay. A reminder we’re sharing the jobs we want to have someday. Such as teacher, mechanic, or chef.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s what I mean,” he answered. “I want to be Mr. Beast.”
It was a Wednesday and it was class meeting time. We were sharing the jobs we’d like to have as grown-ups and I found out that approximately half my class wanted to be Mr. Beast, a YouTuber who rose to fame after making a video of himself counting to 100,000 only taking breaks for the bathroom. It took him over 40 hours and it over 22 million views. The rest of my class? They wanted to be NFL players or Ariana Grande.
After they finished sharing I sat quietly, wondering if I should address my dismay in their choices. I must have been making a face because I heard, “Mrs. Wopat? Is something wrong?”
“I can’t believe none of you said you want to be a teacher! Or a veterinarian! Or even an astronaut!”
“What’s an astronaut?” asked the kid across from me.
“Maybe you should ask Mr. Beast,” I said, who, by the way, has videos purporting there is scientific evidence the earth is flat. “I’m kidding,” I added. “But I have to say I’m bummed that nobody wants to be a teacher someday.”
“Well, a teacher is my second choice, if I don’t get drafted right away!” said a boy wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey.
“Yeah, and a doctor would be ok, I guess, but I wouldn’t make as much money as Ariana Grande,” a girl added, shrugging.
I took a deep breath and told myself: Don’t lecture. It’s not worth it. Just move on. You’re not going to change their minds. They are kids after all. When you were a kid, you wanted to be Marlena from Days of Our Lives even after she got possessed.”
“Everybody! Take a knee!” I yelled, impulsively. My class huddled around me, on their knees and I turned into coach-mode.
“I want you to remember that I am proud of you no matter what your job will be. Remember that no matter what career you dream of having, you will have to work hard. BUT, I feel like I need to say that we probably celebrate professional sports and YouTubers so much because of all the money involved. But I really believe that money isn’t everything. I don’t get paid that much, but I have the best job in the world.
I do, however, know that not very many people want to be teachers. And although it makes me sad, I understand why. There aren’t tens of thousands of people cheering for me in a big stadium, and Nike doesn’t care if I wear their shoes, and I probably won’t ever get to come running out of the locker room, hurl myself through a giant paper breakthrough banner, through a lineup of cheerleaders--”
“Um, Mrs. Wopat? We get it,” one of the boys said, interrupting me.
“Do you though?” I continued. “Because I need you to remember that your teachers keep on going, even though there aren’t a lot of cheerleaders out there for us! There are so many other important things you can do in your life, and you might have to do them even when other people don’t notice or celebrate you.”
They all nodded.
“Mrs. Wopat?” a girl said, tenderly. “It’s a minute past lunchtime.”
I let out my breath and sent them to lunch.
Later that afternoon, I was picking up my class in the cafeteria when Cathy, a teaching assistant, grabbed me to talk. The students had already started filing out of the lunchroom, so I walked backward, trying to use my body language to show her that I, uh, kinda sorta needed to leave. You know, unsupervised kids and all.
“I love this story, Cath, but I gotta run! We can finish later!” I said, turning to leave.
She followed me out the door, continuing on with the story about her granddaughter who had finally learned to roll over.
But as I rounded the corner toward my classroom I heard a huge commotion. My blood pressure spiked. I started muttering to myself. UGH. Seriously. 2 minutes. They’re in there for 2 minutes without me and they’re totally off the wall. What do we do after lunch? WE READ QUIETLY AFTER LUNCH. They will never learn. It is March, for goodness sake!
I had my teacher face on, and I was ready to let ‘em have it, until I reached the doorway of my classroom and looked in. There, my students stood in two lines, one across from the other, holding their arms up like arches, cheering for me.
“And now,” a kid yelled, “Our starting Quarterback, let’s give it up for MRSSSS Wopat!!!!!!!”
My class cheered.
I froze in place, tears springing to my eyes.
“Mrs. Wopat! Run through the tunnel! We made you a tunnel! Do you get it?” a girl asked. “Go for it,” their accomplice Cathy said from behind me, with a smile.
I ran through that tunnel, while 25 9-year-olds cheered and screamed and patted me on the back. And at the end, a child whispered in my ear, “If you were a football player, Mrs. Wopat? You’d for sure be in the hall of fame!”
As it turns out, I hadn’t needed to lecture them. The NFL ain’t got nothin’ on teaching.