Jessica Bruneau

The Meaning of Teaching 

By Jessica Bruneau | Photography by Alexis Emm

Since I was very little, I’d wanted to be a teacher. I played school with my friends, my siblings, my dolls — with anyone willing to sit at a pretend desk and follow my directions.

I didn’t know what I would teach until I was in high school and had an English teacher who changed my life. I became a teacher because I had some special teachers who clearly sent me the message that who I was was valuable, that I was capable of hard things, that my voice mattered. It was always my goal to send that same message to my students: “I see you, I love you, you matter.”

I went to college to become an English teacher. Then, with all the idealism and hope in the world, I started my first teaching job. Until you stand in front of a classroom and try to impart wisdom to 25 children who don’t care who you are yet, you have no idea what teaching really looks like. What begins to become clear is if you can tough it out and stay the course — if you’re willing to stay late and lose sleep — there’s this beautiful magic that happens between you and your students.

I live for the moment when what started as a lesson becomes something they embody, something they own, and — for even the briefest moment — they don’t need me anymore. Watching a student get it and then celebrate herself is the whole magic of teaching.

What breaks my heart is how little room there is left for that magic in many classrooms right now. Those moments are what I lived for, but they were not enough to sustain me.

As a middle school English teacher, one of my goals was to always hold the space for my students to be themselves. I saw part of my job as being the person who told them, “I love you for exactly who you are, even if you’re a little weird, so don’t change. Do not let middle school ruin you and make you conform.” I sent this message through books, writing and the love I hope I showed every student who walked through my door.

I walked away from the classroom about three years ago. Sometimes I wrestle with guilt — the idea that I abandoned kids who need me, that I jumped from a sinking ship instead of going down with it. But, every day, I begin to understand more that I showed my students it’s OK to take risks, to stay true to yourself and not let middle school change you.

I loved giving everything I had to my students, but when your own cup is empty, what can you give? The traditional school system takes and takes and takes, and rarely gives.

I sat on a beach in Costa Rica four years ago, wracked with sobs, knowing a change was coming. I didn’t know what would change and didn’t yet realize I was mourning the fact that I would leave the classroom. Through that next year, God dropped new opportunities in my lap and it became clear I had other paths to follow.

When I left the classroom, I thought I was leaving teaching, which felt like a death of something I had wanted my whole life. I began my own business selling essential oils and completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training.

I was worried I would lose or miss those magical moments, the ones when a student finally understands and embodies what you have been teaching them. But that experience does not belong only to a classroom. And school-aged students are not the only people in the world who need the message, “I see you, I love you, you matter.”

My life looks so different now, but, more than ever, I feel like a teacher. More than ever, I get to teach students they are capable of more than they could have ever dreamed. I get to experience that magic moment all the time.

Four walls, a desk and standardized tests do not a teacher make. I still lose sleep over students I care about. I still pour my time and heart into planning yoga classes and preparing resources for my oily team. I still have goals to meet. I still have to use my alarm clock — but only sometimes! And every time a student does a headstand for the first time, texts me to tell me how they supported their own wellness with an oil, breathes instead of yells or kicks all the toxins out of their home, I still get to experience the magic.

The difference is my cup is so full, it’s overflowing. I’m able to give and give and give, and I continue to receive, receive, receive. Yoga tells us everything is the teacher. I count myself lucky to have learned from so many and blessed to sometimes be one of them. SWM

Connect with Jessica Bruneau about Young Living essential oils, yoga, tutoring and more at jessicabruneau.weebly.com. Connect with Jessica on Instagram @thejesslifeever.

Jess teaches at Mindful Yoga. For more information, visit mindfulyogastudio.co.

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